Alex Dowsett (Movistar) is the new leader of the Tour of Britain after the break succeeded for the second day running – Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling) taking his second consecutive stage win in Hemel Hempstead.
Dowsett and Brandle had worked superbly alongside Tom Stewart (Madison-Genesis), as the three built up a huge lead over the bunch and maintained a big advantage to the finish.
Brandle took the stage win, and himself move into the top ten overall, but Dowsett – who took second on the stage – will wear the yellow jersey on stage seven after overhauling a deficit of almost one-and-a-half minutes.
Despite a furious chase from Omega Pharma-Quickstep for Michal Kwiatkowski, the Commonwealth Games time trial champion now holds a 34-second lead over the Pole overall.
A furious pace at the start of the stage saw the peloton split into two groups, with no move able to go clear in the opening exchanges – despite Alex Peters (Madison-Genesis) trying to instigate something.
All the main contenders made the front group, with Kwiatkowski initially stretching his overall lead by scooping three bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint.
Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) took two, and Roche the final one, before the attacks continued from the riders in the front group.
Dowsett looked a man on a mission again on stage six, with the bitter memories of his double puncture in the stage four break clearly still on his mind.
Having been given no freedom to attack on stage five, the Movistar man ensured he got clear this time out with stage five winner Brandle and Stewart for company.
As soon as they had earned a gap, Brandle and Dowsett set about ramping the pace up – digging deep to stretch their advantage to more than nine minutes at his maximum.
Both sensed they would not be given a proper advantage by the bunch if they did not work for it and pulled huge shifts on the front of the break.
To Stewart’s credit he did not merely hang on to the wheels either, despite at times appearing to be right on the edge just to keep up with the other two.
With all three taking turns, almost team pursuit style, and Stewart’s boss Roger Hammond giving regular updates on the race situation they continued to hold a big lead over the flatter opening part of the stage.
Dowsett’s presence in the break also meant the Englishman was able to pick up time bonuses of his own at the intermediate sprints.
Both he and Brandle gave a superb showcase of their time trialling skills on the front, with no let-up in their incredible speed until they reached the day’s first climb at Chinnor Hill.
The peloton chased hard, and had gone a long way to reeling them in with a powerful group of riders chasing – Bernie Eisel (Team Sky), Niki Terpstra and Julien Vermote (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Peter Velits (BMC Racing) leading the way.
With those four on the front, the peloton looked like bringing the front men back very easily but as they hit the climb it all began to fall apart.
Eisel was one of the first to blow up, leaving Sky short of numbers for the chase with Ian Stannard out of the race and Sebastian Henao crashing on stage five.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep soon found themselves without support – Garmin-Sharp and Bardiani CSF unwilling to help after being without allies themselves the previous day.
Mark Cavendish came to the front on the climb, as any hopes of a sprint finish were put aside, with Ben Swift doing the same for Sky.
Both did a sterling job for their teams, but Dowsett and Brandle climbed with ease – remaining seated as they conserved as much energy as possible.
Stewart was out of the saddle but continued to help where he could, with Hammond continuing to bark instructions to all three from his team car.
Doswett led the way over the climbs as the gap continued to hold – Cavendish and Swift burying themselves on the front of the peloton.
As the leaders passed under the flamme rouge, however, they still boasted a two-minute advantage over the bunch – Dowsett and Brandle operating what was almost a two-man time trial.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep had reached desperation point on the front – Terpstra, Vermote, Cavendish and even Kwiatkowski himself trying to ramp the pace up.
At the front, Brandle attacked to take the stage honours, with Dowsett – who admitted to allowing Brandle to take the win – holding on for second and a six-second time bonus.
Stewart took third, just rewards for his own efforts for the day, and all eyes then turned to the clock which ticked over very much in favour of Alex Dowsett.
It was another 50 seconds before the peloton even reached the final kilometre, and a further minute passed by the time Sonny Colbrelli led them over the line.
It leaves Dowsett with a 34-second lead over Kwiatkowski heading into stage seven, and with his time trialling skills well known he will be keen to protect the jersey on the tricky, undulating finish to the stage.
Defending champion Wiggins, meanwhile, is a full minute behind his compatriot, with British hopes now seemingly pinned on Dowsett.
Tour of Britain 2014: stage seven – result
1) Matthias Brandle (AUT) – IAM Cycling – 4.44.49hrs
2) Alex Dowsett (GBR) – Movistar +1”
3) Tom Stewart (GBR) – Madison-Genesis +1”
4) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +1.51
5) Nicola Ruffoni (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF – ST
6) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
7) Martin Kohler (SUI) – BMC Racing
8) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – IAM Cycling
9) Rick Zabel (GER) – BMC Racing
10) Tom Veelers (NED) – Giant-Shimano
1) Alex Dowsett (GBR) – Movistar – 25.07.53hrs
2) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +34”
3) Edoardo Zardini (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +40”
4) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +50”
5) Dylan Teuns (BEL) – BMC Racing +51”
6) Jon Izaguirre (ESP) – Movistar +1.00
7) Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky +1.02
8) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Team NetApp-Endura +1.06
9) Sebastian Reichenbach (SUI) – IAM Cycling – ST
10) Matthias Brandle (AUT) – IAM Cycling +1.07