Cummings survived a penultimate stage assault from BMC Racing Team’s Rohan Dennis to head to London for the final stage of the Tour of Britain wearing the Yellow Jersey presented by Eisberg of race leader.
Having come second, behind Tony Martin, in the morning’s time trial, Dennis attacked late on in the afternoon’s second part of the Bristol Stage presented by OVO Energy to take the win and to haul himself to within 26-seconds of the overall lead.
Behind Cummings came in 15th within a group six seconds back after a frantic chase of lone leader Dennis across the Clifton Downs to limit the BMC rider’s advantage.
“It was a tough two stages,” said Team Dimension Data rider Steve Cummings afterwards.
“First off in the morning the conditions were treacherous really with the rain so I was happy to get that done and limit my losses. Luckily the weather improved in the afternoon so that was less of a concern it was just about not losing the race at the start and being attentive at the end.
“I had two people I had to follow and I let one go but it wasn’t that I just fell asleep it was that I didn’t have the legs to do it! I still limited my losses though and kept the jersey so it’s a good day for everyone.”
Dennis had responded to an acceleration from Tom Dumoulin on the final of six ascents of Bridge Valley Road after the peloton had caught a four rider break containing Andre Greipel, who won the HIGH5 Combativity Award for Stage Seven, on the last of those circuits.
The former UCI World Hour Record holder went clear as the climb stiffened, showing further good climbing form in a week that has seen him star on the ascents of The Struggle in Cumbria (Stage Two) and Haytor in Devon (Stage Six). Dennis then put his time trialling abilities to the fore to hold off the 20-plus rider group behind.
Coming into the final kilometre on the Downs Cummings put in a big effort to close down Dennis and limit his losses, briefly gapping his rivals before fading slightly in the final few hundred metres for a safe 15th position.
Looking ahead to Stage Eight, the London Stage presented by TfL, Rohan Dennis was pestimistic about his chances of overturning Cummings’ advantage.
“To pick up 26-seconds it means I’d have to go off the front and win the stage, and with at least four teams there that would want it to be a bunch sprint that’s pretty unlikely to be honest.
“The first plan will probably be just to make sure we don’t lose second and then if there is an opportunity to take time off Steve then I’ll take it, but with his team it’ll be tough they’re pretty experienced and riding the front and closing down anything that’s dangerous.”
The stage win does though move Dennis into the lead of the Chain Reaction Cycles Points classification with a six-point advantage over Dumoulin. Dutch national champion Dylan Groenewegen lies a further two points in arrears, and looks the favourite for the jersey should the final stage end in a bunch sprint, as expected.
The Yodel Sprints Jersey will go down to the final day, with An Post Chain Reaction’s Jasper Bovenhuis holding a six-point lead over Greipel, with nine points to play for at three intermediate Yodel Sprints during the 16-lap London stage.
One classification that was sealed in Bristol is the SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey, with Wanty Group Gobert’s Xandro Meurisse extending his lead over Nicolas Roche and completing his hold on the jersey that he took on Stage Two in Cumbria.
In the morning’s Alpecin Time Trial Tony Martin had ridden to the victory, clocking an 18-minutes and 6-second lap to beat Dennis by 3-seconds for the second stage win of the week for Etixx Quick-Step, with Olympic Games Silver medallist Tom Dumoulin in third.
Having twice finished second overall in the Tour of Britain (2008 and 2011), Cummings heads to London on the verge of history and becoming the first Brit since Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2013 to win his national Tour.
Speaking after the Bristol Stage presented by OVO Energy which again saw hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the roadside for the seventh day, Steve Cummings said;
“All week the crowds have been fantastic here in Britain, people are loving their cycling now and it’s a really cool thing because it’s free to watch and it’s a cool way to get around being on a bike! You get a buzz and you get goosebumps from the crowds and they push you on so it’s great.”
The Tour of Britain concludes in central London on Sunday 11 September with the London Stage presented by TfL featuring 16-laps of a 6-kilometre circuit taking in the world-famous landmarks of Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Stage Eight gets underway at 2.30pm, with live coverage of the Tour of Britain on ITV4 from 2pm-5pm.