Tour of Britain leader Sir Bradley Wiggins revealed he would have preferred to end up in hospital than fail to win the stage three time trial.
Team Sky leader Wiggins produced a fearless display to move from 12th in the general classification to top of the standings with the only sub-20 minute ride of the day at Knowsley Safari Park.
Wiggins defied heavy wind and rain to complete the 16km course in 19 minutes 54.20 seconds and claim the gold jersey - 36 seconds ahead of team-mate Ian Stannard, who occupies second place overall.
The Olympic champion is now well placed to win the race, a result that would see him arrive in Florence later this month for the World Championships in buoyant mood.
And Wiggins, 33, admitted he was willing to risk injury to achieve his goal.
"I've made no secret that I really want to do well in this race," he said.
"I had to win, whatever. The conditions weren't ideal for me, but I thought I'd rather end up in hospital today than be beaten, so it was 100% commitment.
"I didn't flinch on the roundabouts in the wet, and fortunately the hospitals are close to where I live, so my wife could have visited me. I knew that...I was prepared to end up in hospital than lose the race today. It went perfectly."
Wiggins had a 30-second deficit to hunt down after the first two stages and left a rain-lashed but hardy crowd with plenty to cheer in a relentless run.
His effort was enough to give him a cushion of 37 seconds over Stannard in the GC, with New Zealand's Jack Bauer - third in the time trial - 55 seconds back in fourth.
Martin Elmiger is third overall, lying 47 seconds shy of Wiggins' mark.
Wiggins is now feeling confident about his prospects for the next five days and believes it would be a significant feather in his cap following a tough season.
"We took responsibility from the start, and we're here to win," he said.
"I don't expect it to be easy. There are time bonuses at the end of each day, but we've got a strong team.
"I've wanted to win this race for a few years, and having done the Tour and the Vuelta for the past few years, I've never had the opportunity to do it. I was in no condition last year to ride the race after the Tour and Olympics. At this time of the year it's nice to be in great shape to compete well in this race. Every year this race gets more prestigious, gets the more kudos."
Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford was impressed by Wiggins' application and believes he has positioned himself well for the remainder of the race.
"That was pretty much ideal," Brailsford told Press Association Sport.
"It is always difficult when you have challenging conditions and miserable weather. But Brad has been concentrating well and he came to this race with serious intent.
"He has applied himself fantastically. It was a short time-trial here but the time was a good one and it will please Brad.
"It bodes well for the next few days. There is a lot of hard work to do but we're in a good place and that's where we wanted to be.
"There's a lot of racing to come and we're not counting our chickens but Brad doesn't need to go on the attack now.
"He has a buffer and it is all about managing that."
Mark Cavendish, riding for Omega Pharma QuickStep, lies 26th after recording a creditable 21mins 20secs in one of his less favoured stages.