Sir Bradley Wiggins moved into the overall lead of the Tour of Britain after producing a magnificent performance to win stage three's individual time trial.
The 33-year-old Team Sky rider was the only man in the field to dip under 20 minutes on a rain-soaked 16km course around Knowsley Safari Park, stopping the clock 36 seconds faster than his nearest challenger in a blistering 19min 54sec.
Ian Stannard was second quickest to complete an English and Team Sky one-two, with New Zealand's Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) 42 seconds down in third, but British time trial champion Alex Dowsett (Movistar) had to settle for fifth.
The result means Wiggins claims the race leader's gold jersey, with Stannard now 37 seconds down in second overall and Switzerland's Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling), who was fourth on the day, 47 seconds back in third.
Wiggins's virtuoso display also sent a major statement to Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara ahead of the world time trial championship in Tuscany next Wednesday, where the trio are expected to fight out a hotly anticipated battle on a flat 57.9km course.
The Olympic time trial champion said afterwards: "It was obvious, my commitment on those roundabouts in the rain. I couldn't tell you how many times I have been around this course. It was great just to get out there in front of everybody and to do a performance like that."
Wiggins entered the third stage as heavy favourite, but the playing field was significantly levelled by the continuation of the heavy rain that had drenched the previous two days of the race.
However, prior to the stage, he meticulously researched how far he could push the limits on the slippery road surfaces and reaped the benefits with a peerless time that now puts him in pole position to win the race overall.
Wiggins explained: "I went through the roundabouts a couple of times. I got off the first time and pushed the bike against the floor to see how slippery it was. The next time I went through at 40kmh, then 50, then I took it at 55. The last time I came off from behind the car at 60kmh. I just wanted to be 100 per cent sure that I could do that in the race."
Italy's Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox) had set the early pace with a time of 21min 16sec, but then Bauer moved to the top of the standings with a impressive mark of 20min 36sec.
Dowsett had been expected to be Wiggins's closest challenger, but despite overtaking the rider in front of him, Bauer's time proved too good and he crossed the line 14 seconds slower.
Stannard then raised eyebrows by posting a superb time of 20min 30sec to take the lead, but Wiggins was already tearing his way through the largely flat course and his team-mate's stay at the top of the standings was short-lived.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) produced a fine performance to claim 10th on the day, while Simon Yates (Great Britain) continued to impress with a 16th-place finish that leaves him 11th overall, 1min 23sec behind Wiggins.
Stage three result
1 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky, 19:54
2 Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky, +36secs
3 Jack Bauer (NZ) Garmin-Sharp, +42
4 Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling, +54
5 Alex Dowsett (GB) Movistar, +56
6 David Lopez (Spa) Team Sky, +1:16
7 Alexander Wetterhall (Swe) NettApp-Endura, +1:20
8 Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox, +1:22
9 Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN-Qhubeka, +1:25
10 Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1:26
1 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky, 11:25:54
2 Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky, +37secs
3 Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling, +47
4 Jack Bauer (NZ) Garmin-Sharp, +55
5 Alex Dowsett (GB) Movistar, +57
6 David Lopez (Spa) Team Sky, +1:17
7 Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1:18
8 Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN-Qhubeka, same time
9 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka, +1:21
10 Alexander Wetterhall (Swe) NetApp-Endura, same time
11 Simon Yates (GB) Great Britain, +1:23
17 Dan Martin (Ire) Garmin-Sharp, +1:38
- Blue and white jersey (points classification): Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka)
- Green polka dot jersey (mountains classification): Angel Madrazo (Movistar)
- Green and red jersey (intermediate sprints competition): Nicola Boem (Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox)