Sir Bradley Wiggins believes his Tour of Britain title defence is all but over after Michal Kwiatkowski seized the race lead by stealing a stunning stage-four victory in Bristol today.
The Pole, of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, won the sprint for the line at the end of the 184.6km route from Worcester to claim a time bonus and take the leader’s yellow jersey by three seconds from Italy’s Edoardo Zardini.
Team Sky’s Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France champion and last year’s Tour of Britain winner, is now sixth, 27 seconds adrift.
The Briton, who could close the deficit in Sunday morning’s short time trial in London, said: “I’m still up there but on paper first place has gone now. I can’t see myself getting 27 seconds on Kwiatkowski, but the podium is only 12 seconds away.
“He only has to have a puncture in the time trial,” Wiggins added. “I wouldn’t say the general classification is over because finishing up there as the defending champion is important.”
Alex Dowsett, of Movistar, was in the day’s six-man break, but a double puncture saw him fall back to the peloton.
The real action came inside the final three kilometres when Albert Timmer of Giant-Shimano, who had been in the day’s break alongside Dowsett, tried to accelerate up Bridge Valley Road following the peloton’s passage through the Avon Gorge.
First, Jack Bauer bridged the gap to Timmer and it appeared the two would contend for the stage win, but then Kwiatkowski and three others accelerated towards them.
The Pole had enough energy to power past Bauer and Timmer to take victory, much to the latter’s frustration. Belgium’s Dylan Teuns was third and Bauer fourth.
Kwiatkowski is a talented all-rounder and is now favourite for overall victory in London on Sunday, although plenty of hurdles remain, beginning with today’s fifth stage in Devon.
Wiggins finished in the bunch behind Sky colleague Ben Swift, who was six seconds behind Kwiatkowski in seventh.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) sits fourth, 14 seconds behind, after finishing sixth today.