Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) moved into the gold jersey of Tour of Britain race leader after a blistering individual time trial in Knowsley, and sent out a clear statement to his World Championship rivals.
Wiggins, who will bid for world championship time trial glory later this month, made light work of the hairpin bends and the typical North West weather to finish the 16km course in a blistering 19:54.20.
Wiggins was the only man to finish in less than 20 minutes, despite being notably cautious around the tight, wet bends and finished 32 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger – team mate Ian Stannard.
New Zealander Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) was the only other man to even come close with a time of 20:36, while British TT champion Alex Dowsett (Movistar), who will also represent Great Britain in Florence, finished in 20:50.
It was another of Wiggins’ Sky team mates, exciting British neo pro Josh Edmondson, who set the early benchmark, going round in 21:38.75.
Alongside Alan Marangoni (Cannondale) and Alex Peters (Madison Genesis), he was one of only three of the early starters to finish sub 22 minutes on the wet course in Knowsley.
Iljo Keisse (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) managed to take four seconds off the mark however, and Sam Bennett (An Post Chain Reaction) and Owain Doull (Great Britain) went even quicker, the latter finishing in 21:27.30.
At the other end of the scale, Christophe Laborie (Sojasun) and Roman van Uden (Giordana) suffered with the sharp bends and wet course and both recorded times of more than 24 minutes.
The benchmark continued to fall however, and by the time Dowsett started his ride, Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) had sprung a surprise by setting a new fastest time of 21:16.71.
An appreciative crowd lined the scenic route despite the weather, and Mark Cavendish was given a warm greeting – unlike his now infamous experience in the ITT at the Tour de France.
The Manxman posted a respectable 21:20.91 – second fastest at the time, while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished in 21:29.52 to ensure he remains in GC contention.
Heading out on to the main road, Wiggins appeared very cautious on the greasy surface but he soon found his rhythm on the largely straight section down St Helens Road.
Bauer became the first man to go sub 21 minutes while Wiggins and Dowsett were still on the road, but Philip Deignan (United Healthcare) is believed to have suffered a broken collarbone after falling.
Dowsett meanwhile found himself in the slipstream of the Team Sky car following Matt Hayman at one point, but having passed the Aussie rider, his time of 20:50.14 left him visibly disappointed.
With all eyes on his team mate, Stannard stormed through to momentarily finish fastest but just moments later Wiggins – who flew through the final kilometre – finished his phenomenal lap.
The result moves the pre-Tour favourite to the top of GC, after the pre-stage
leader Gerald Ciolek finished in 21:45.20.
Tour of Britain 2013: stage three – result
1 Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky Procycling 19:54.20
2 Ian Stannard (GBR) Sky Procycling +32”
3 Jack Bauer (NZL) Garmin-Sharp +42”
4 Martin Elmiger (SUI) IAM Cycling +54”
5 Alex Dowsett (GBR) Movistar +56”
6 David Lopez (ESP) Sky Procycling +1’16”
7 Alex Wetterhall (SWE) Net App Endura +1’20”
8 Stefano Pirazzi (ITA) Bardiani +1’22”
9 Sergio Pardilla (ESP) MTN-Qhubeka +1’25”
10 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1’26”
1 Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky Procycling 11:25.54hrs
2 Ian Stannard (GBR) Sky Procycling +37”
3 Martin Elmiger (SUI) IAM Cycling +47”
4 Jack Bauer (NZL) Garmin-Sharp +55”
5 Alex Dowsett (GBR) Movistar +57”
6 David Lopez (ESP) Sky Procycling +1’17”
7 Michal Golas (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1’18”
8 Sergio Pardilla (ESP) MTN-Qhubeka same time
9 Gerald Ciolek (GER) MTN-Qhubeka +1’21”
10 Alex Wetterhall (SWE) Net App Endura same time