On his local roads, the 27-year-old from Devon gave another climbing masterclass, attacking in the final hilly kilometres to split the leading group and distance his main rival, Australia’s Leigh Howard, as Spain’s Pablo Urtasan won the stage from a four-man breakaway.
It isn’t over yet, with a final stage to Guildford today including more climbs and, critically, more time bonuses. But with 18 seconds over his closest rival, Nathan Haas of Australia, and 23 over Damiano Caruso of Italy, Tiernan-Locke, pictured below, can be confident that he will hold on for his biggest ever win.
The Endura team had a tough job controlling the race over Saturday’s 173km from Barnstaple to Dartmouth on roads that were either up or down, as well as narrow and twisting. But they stuck to a task made more complicated by the fact that it was in their interests for the breakaway, which didn’t contain anyone who threatened Tiernan-Locke’s overall lead, to stay away.
It meant they had to chase, but not too hard. And in the end it worked out, with Urtasan winning from a strong quartet that included Ivan Basso, the double Giro d’Italia winner, Marc de Maar, the stage winner in Stoke on Thursday, and Samuel Sanchez, the third-placed finisher in the 2010 Tour de France.
As Tiernan-Locke goes into the final day with his 18-second lead over the Garmin-Sharp rider, he said: “I think Haas would have to win all the time bonuses and the stage. I’m not going to get dropped on the climbs, and we showed we could do it today, the team really raised their game.”
Once again the crowds turned out in their thousands, despite the withdrawal of Bradley Wiggins on Friday. Mark Cavendish remains in the race, but this stage proved too lumpy for him.
“The crowds were fantastic today, especially on the two climbs of Dartmoor,” said Tiernan-Locke. “I was trying to look out for people I know, but you couldn’t. I had goosepimples riding up there.”