All the chief contenders were in the main field of 76 who were overtaken by the leaders half-way through the race and then, with two laps remaining, were pulled out of the race.
Moldavia's Andrei Tchmil injected excitement into the final phase by hunting down and dropping Belgium's Bart Leysen and Poland's Zbigniew Spruch. He caught them three laps from the finish and was alone next time around.
When Tchmil last felt the thud of cobbles along William Brown Street he was heading for his first major victory since April in the Paris to Roubaix classic. His victory gave him the lead in the World Cup series and he defends that advantage in Sunday's Leeds Classic.
The public jamming the streets to watch the free show were unaware, and doubtless unconcerned, about the politics that had turned the circuit race into a non-counting event in the five-day Tour.
Team managers used the rule book concerning the size of circuits to persuade organisers to drop time bonuses from the stage because they considered they would unfairly affect the overall standings in such a short race.
A bonus is a deduction from a rider's total time, which is earned by being in the first three at an intermediate sprint or at the finish. The race, then, was effectively nullified, which gave the main group an easier time.
So while Tchmil was 38 seconds clear of Belgium's Hendrik Redant at the finish, it was not counted into his aggregate race time and Fondriest, towelling himself down by his team car when the last lap began, knew his lead was safe.
In the morning time trial at Bolton, he had beaten his big adversary, Russia's Vyacheslav Ekimov, by 20 seconds, but is still undecided about contesting the World Championship in Sicily later this month.
KELLOGG'S TOUR OF BRITAIN Third stage first leg (Bolton, 7.8m individual time trial): 1 M Fondriest (It) 14m 58.86s; 2 V Ekimov (Rus) 15:18.01; 3 O Ludwig (Ger) 15:21.86; 4 S Yates (GB) 15:25.55 5 R Aldag (Ger) 15:27.13; 6 J Svorada (Slovak) 15:33.70.
Second leg (Liverpool city centre 37.5m circuit race): 1 A Tchmil (Ukr) 1:31:59; 2 H Redant (Bel) +38s; 3 Z Spruch (Pol) +49; 4 B Leysen (Bel) same time; 5 J Skibby (Den) +56; 6 R Aldag (Ger) +58. Overall standings (after three stages): 1 Fondriest 12h 23m 2s; 2 Ekimov +24s; 3 Ludwig +43; 4 Yates +55; 5 Svorada +57; 6 Aldag same time. Overall teams: 1 Lampre 31:49:02; 2 TVM 31:49:19; 3 GB-MG same time. Points classification: 1 J Museeuw (Bel) 23; 2 Svorada 20; 3 S Sunderland (Aus) TVM 19. Sprints: 1 B Luckwell (GB) FS Maestro 18pts; 2 Leysen 8; 3 Spruch 8. Mountains: 1 Sunderland 43pts; 2 Luckwell 24, 3 Fondriest 19.