Alberto Contador protected his lead of the Tour of Basque Country before the decisive time trial, while Ben Swift of England won Friday’s fifth stage.
Swift edged a small group of riders at the finish line to claim the 160km leg featuring five categorized mountain climbs from Eibar to Markina-Xemein in just under four hours.
“This was one of my best” days, said Swift, who rides for Team Sky. “It was really hard, but the legs felt very good. I liked my chances doing into that sprint.”
Alejandro Valverde, who is second overall, also finished second in the stage, a wheel-length behind Swift. Contador, a five-time Grand Tour winner, finished in the leading group to make sure he did not lose any of his 12-second lead.
Valverde launched an attack with less than 10km to go, but Contador stayed pegged to his nearest challenger as they sailed down a long downhill stretch before being caught by the pack.
“I had to try it, even though we knew it was going to be tough,” Valverde said. “It will be a hard time trial, especially if there is more wind against us like today.”
Contador described his two-man battles with Valverde throughout the race as the two Spaniards “playing cat and mouse.”
“I will treat [the final-day time trial] as if we had the same time,” Contador said. “It is true I have a 12-second advantage, but I still think it is a very open race.”
Contador was in line for his third Tour of Basque Country title with the 54th edition of the six-day race in northern Spain set to conclude yesterday with a 25.9km time trial to and from Beasain.