FOLSOM -- The Amgen Tour of California grinded through the first two days like clockwork after English star Bradley Wiggins won the individual time trial Monday on a blazing day along the American River.
Wiggins' easy victory in 23 minutes, 18 seconds came a day after fellow British star Mark Cavendish won the opening stage in Sacramento in the closest finish in the tour's nine-year history.
But here come the mountains. And just in time for rising temperatures in the Bay Area that threaten to turn the weeklong event into an overheated exercise in survival.
"I think there is only so much the human body can take," said Wiggins, who in 2012 became the first Englishman to win a Tour de France.
Wiggins, 34, has a 44-second lead over Garmin-Sharp's Rohan Dennis of Australia, who was second in the time trial. But Wiggins will take a sizable lead over the other favorites as they head into the "Queens Stage" on Tuesday that starts at Lake Cunningham in San Jose and ends with a 10.8-mile climb to Mount Diablo's summit.
The 108½-mile course also includes a climb over Mount Hamilton. With temperatures forecast in the mid-90s, the riders could suffer mightily as they try to take the jersey from the only man to win the Tour de France and Olympic gold medal in the same year.
Wiggins followed his Tour victory in 2012 with a gold medal in the time trial at the London Games.
After an injury-plagued season last year, the Team Sky star showed just why he is considered one of the greatest cyclists of his generation.
He tore through the 12.6-mile course that ended in downtown Folsom as if he were driving along the Bonneville Flats.
Santa Rosa-based Peter Stetina worried before the tour that Wiggins might build a 2-minute lead on him during the time trial.
He wished. The BMC Racing leader is 2½ minutes behind heading into the pivotal stage for the big climbers. Wiggins has command of the tour that ends Sunday in Thousand Oaks.
"I knew I was good coming in this race, but you never can account for how other people are going to do," he said.
The starting field of 128 riders survived the first two days in the Central Valley and Sierra foothills. But it might be a race of attrition Tuesday.
BMC's Taylor Phinney, who took third Monday, admittedly dislikes the heat. But he might have been speaking for everyone when saying, "You're not feeling good either way."
Well, everyone except Wiggins.
The Brit feels the pressure is off while his Team Sky teammates shepherd him over Hamilton and to the top of 3,848-foot Diablo.
"It's more for our team to do the best they can do to finish it up on the climb," he said. "It's going to be a long week for them boys."
Wiggins' strategy to fight the heat? He held up a water bottle like a schoolboy at show-and-tell.
"We've been here for a couple weeks, so we got used to the heat," Wiggins said. "But it still doesn't make it any easier."
It won't get easier for Team Belkin leader Laurens ten Dam, who got knocked down from behind after finishing 41st Monday. As he lay on the burning pavement, it looked as if one of the race favorites was out.
But ten Dam limped to the Belkin team car.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
Stage 3 ("Queens Stage"): 108.5 miles from San Jose to summit of Mount Diablo
Start time: 10:45 a.m.; TV: 2 p.m., NBCSN
Key climb: 4,216-foot Mount Hamilton