Alex Dowsett reaped the reward of the “hardest day in my life” as he stormed into the race lead of the Tour of Britain today. Matthias Brändle collected his second consecutive stage victory in another breakaway, but Dowsett, who began stage six one minute 25 seconds behind leader Michal Kwiatkowski in the general classification, changed the shape of the Tour by getting in the same break, along with Tom Stewart.
Capitalising on the time-trialling skills of both Brändle and Dowsett, they built a lead of more than nine minutes on the road, and the peloton rarely looked capable of bringing it back despite some frantic efforts from Omega Pharma-Quick Step in the closing stages of the challenging 205.6km run from Bath to Hemel Hempstead.
Dowsett showed no interest in contesting Brändle for the victory on the final straight, knowing his job was done as he took a 34-seconds lead in the overall standings. It was just reward for the British rider who put a huge effort into a breakaway on stage four, only to have all his work undone by a double puncture.
“It was the hardest day of my life,” Dowsett said. “I just thought they were letting us out to bring us back and I was a bit hacked off with myself because I thought I could have a good time trial but I was leaving a lot out on the road and I might have given too much.
“Once the gap went up to seven minutes I thought, that’s quite big, then it was eight, nine, and I really started digging in. I spoke to Matthias and we agreed he would go for the stage because I knew there was a good chance I would take yellow and it was a risk I was willing to take.
“He gave me everything. I couldn’t have done it without him, and Tom too from Madison Genesis. He probably had the hardest day of his life, he gave all he could and I’m grateful to him.”
The break’s lead reached 9min 15sec with a little over 87km to go before the peloton stepped up the chase. Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Team Sky were prominent on the front, but they had left themselves too much to do.
The gap dipped under five minutes with 33km to go, but it was not coming down quickly enough and there was a lull in the chase as teams began to look at each other. As they moved inside the final 10km Kwiatkowski was on the front, desperate to keep his yellow jersey, but it would prove to be in vain.
The Italian Eduardo Zardini (Bardiani) is 40 seconds behind in third and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicholas Roche 50 seconds back in fourth.
Defending champion Sir Bradley Wiggins has much work to do on today’s 226.5km run from Camberley to Brighton, sitting 62 seconds down in seventh place.