Movistar rider thanks Omega Pharma-Quick Step for letting potentially race-winning breakaway stay clear.

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New Friends Life Tour of Britain race leader Alex Dowsett described today’s stage from Bath to Hemel Hempstead as one of his hardest ever.

Dowsett instigated a three-man move that stayed clear to the finish and, crucially, helped overturn his minute-plus deficit on Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) into a 34-second lead on GC.

“I think I’ve eaten more gels today than I have in my lifetime,” said the Movistar rider. “It was probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest day I’ve ever had on the bike.

“It was a hard first 50km. I was on the attack and it was getting really hard, so I reigned it in a little. Then Matthias [Brändle, eventual stage winner]came up to me, and said he thought Quick Step were on their limit.

“There were crosswinds, I had some speed, I went down the inside and we got away. But when we were plugging away into the headwind, I thought this wasn’t my smartest move.

“I thought Quick Step would bring us back. I went flat out for first 40km to establish a big gap, as I thought everybody would relax behind.

‘I knocked it off for about 20km, then the gap grew up to nine minutes. I started thinking less about the stage win, and more about the GC. For the last 100km, I was more or less flat out.

“We had no idea what was going on behind. When the gap went up to nine minutes, we thought ‘what are they doing?’. That’s the biggest gap we’ve had all year. We wondered about the wisdom of that, but I’m grateful to Quick Step for letting it go out that far.”

Just as it was when he won the Commonwealth Games time trial last month, Dowsett said today’s ride was anger-fuelled – particularly since his participation in the breakaway on stage four was ended by a double puncture.

“I think when Juan Pablo [Molinero, Movistar DS] came up and told me to calm down a little bit, I was running on anger. I’m not going to live that down now, am I? I just need someone to hack me off tomorrow.”

Dowsett has not finished the top 20 in his previous Tour of Britain participations, but now looks on course to take the first stage race win of his career.

Tomorrow’s stage into Brighton is arguably his biggest test, as he won on the course that will be used in Sunday morning’s 8.8-kilometre time trial around London.

“We’ve got a team of fantastic climbers, I’m sure whatever Kwiatkowski and Nicolas [Roche] throw at us, riders like [Giovanni] Visconti and Ion [Izagirre] can neutralise it. I just need to hang on. There’s quite a big gap from Ditchling [Beacon to the finish], and that will help.”