Alex Dowsett(Movistar) could hardly have imagined that he would be donning the yellow jersey at the Tour of Britain when he rolled out of Bath for stage 6 on Friday morning. That morning Dowsett wasn’t even in the top 20, sitting 1:25 behind race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), now he leads the Polish rider by 34 seconds.
“I thought it would be a simple go out and QuickStep would bring us back,” said Dowsett. “I was really buckling in last 5km, I was relying quite heavily on Matthias, and Tom as well. The time point is taken on point of peloton crossing the line – there was a good chance they would have closed the gap.
“Before the Commonwealths, and after the Tour, I was doubting myself a lot. So this is more proof to me that I'm able to compete at this level. Nothing's changed, you have lull, you doubt yourself and you wonder if you can still cut it anymore. But I've proved today I'm able to compete at this level.”
Dowsett has been aggressive throughout much of the race. He forced the break on Wednesday, but lost out due to an unfortunate double puncture. He tried again on Thursday but missed the escape. The 25-year-old got away as part of a three-man break that included yesterday’s stage victor Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling) and Thomas Stewart (Madison-Genesis).
After a brutally fast start the trio got away with almost a quarter of the stage already done. “Matthias came up to me, and said he thought QS were on their limit,” Dowsett explained.
Utilising the small amount of crosswinds, Dowsett and the other two jumped off the front and quickly established a lead. As the gap hit more than nine minutes with only 80 kilometres remaining, thoughts turned to the stage win and the yellow jersey. To take yellow, the escapees would have to maintain a big enough gap over the chasers and that meant digging in hard. In the post-race press conference, Dowsett was effusive in his praise for his breakaway companions.
“I think I've eaten more gels today than I have in my lifetime. I really suffered,” he joked. “It was probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest, days I've ever had on the bike. Matthias and I agreed that as I had a good chance of me in yellow, he'd take the stage win. I don't think I could have contested it, anyway. Tom gave as much as he could, for which we’re grateful. I was running on adrenaline at the end.”
The break also had the assistance of two-time British national champion and Madison Genesis team manager Roger Hammond, who knows the area well. “Roger was telling us exactly what we had coming up. We're really grateful for that. Although he did come up and tell us the climb we were on had another kilometre to go, which was soul destroying as we were more or less flat out at the time.”
Now the focus turns to defending the leader’s jersey, but Dowsett is confident of his team’s ability to fend off his rivals in tomorrow’s hard stage to Brighton. “We've got a team of fantastic climbers, I'm sure whatever Kwiatkowski and Nicolas (Roche) throw at us, riders like (Giovanni) Visconti and Jon (Izagirre) can neutralise it. I just need to hang on.”
If he makes it through that then his chances of keeping yellow will increase drastically. The penultimate time trial is almost identical to the course that he won on in 2011, but he is still conscious of the rider’s behind him in the classification.
“I'd say Kwiatkowski is the main threat. The saving grace is the length of it (8.8km). I'll be going for the stage win, but he will be tough to beat.”