Bernhard Eisel spent the day in the breakaway during a tough stage five at the Tour of Oman.
The Team Sky rider pushed clear in the opening kilometres alongside Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol) in a move which was eventually joined by four further chasers.
While many of the riders in the bunch aimed to conserve energy ahead of tomorrow’s finale, Eisel enjoyed a good hit out ahead of the Classics before the escapees were caught with 20 kilometres remaining.
Attention then turned to the punishing ascent of Jabal Al Akhdar – better known as the Green Mountain – as the general classification was all but decided.
Vincenzo Nibali kick-started his season with victory on the mountain-top finish to take victory ahead of Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
The Liquigas rider attacked five kilometres from the summit with the Slovakian in his wheel before kicking once more to win alone, yet was unable to distance Velits enough to prevent his rival from moving into the race lead.
Ian Stannard put in a solid effort on the climb and was the first Team Sky rider home in 21st.
With the previous four tests dominated by the sprinters, the punishing climb saw the general classification contenders rise to the top with a gradient which maxed out at 18%.
Velits now holds a slender one second lead heading into what should be a fast and furious final stage along the Matrah Corniche.
With preparations going well ahead of the Classics, Stannard welcomed the chance to extend himself on the climb.
The Brit said: “I felt good on the climb. It was an easy day up to that point as we were able to sit on in the peloton so I thought I’d do a bit of an effort and some training up there after a whole day riding into a headwind.”
After the stage Sports Director Servais Knaven admitted he preferred the conditions inside the team car as he watched Eisel put in a solid day in the break.
He said: “Bernie was out in a breakaway from the very start so it was good for him to get in a hard ride today ahead of the Classics. But it was tough out there riding into the headwind!
“Then on the climb Ian put in a really good ride to finish just outside the top 20. The rest of the guys could just sit in during the day and we will be going for it in the sprint tomorrow.
“Everyone is still really motivated and has the morale. Everybody is happy even though it was a hard day. That’s really important and it’s a really good group together.”
The penultimate 158-kilometre test always looked likely to be decisive as the riders headed away from the Royal Opera House in Muscat towards the Jabal Nakhl mountain range.
In sweltering conditions Eisel and his counterparts combined to force the gap out to 3:20 despite a difficult combination of crosswinds and a headwind which conspired to buffet the riders.
With a stage profile which rose constantly throughout the day, the final run around to the foot of the Green Mountain was hard fought as teams looked to position their riders.
With 20km to go the break was finally caught as Katusha arrived on the front in a bid to set up Joaquim Rodriguez, while Omega Pharma-Quickstep and RadioShack-Nissan took up the charge on the lower slopes.
Despite the best efforts no one had an answer for Nibali, yet the former Vuelta a Espana winner was left to rue 15 lost seconds during Friday’s stage.