Chris Froome remained at the sharp end at the Vuelta a Espana to retain second after a fast finish on stage seven at the Motorland Aragon race circuit.
Team Sky had dominated the run-in along the circuit access roads and onto the track itself, stretching and even splitting the peloton at one point with Ian Stannard as they looked to keep Froome out of trouble and set up Ben Swift in the sprint.
As a result of the field finish Froome maintained his strong position while Swift was unable to profit at the line taking 10th.
The day also didn't go to plan for Rigoberto Urán who dropped out of fourth place after picking up a puncture and, with the car held up behind an earlier crash, becoming distanced in the closing stages.
John Degenkolb continued his dominant streak taking a third consecutive win, the German (Argos-Shimano) cementing his lead in the points classification as he powered to victory on the front straight.
A hard sprint following a frantic lap of the track saw Degenkolb edge out Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE) on the line. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) also finished in the pack to take a 10-second lead into the toughest stage of the race thus far on Saturday.
After an uphill finish on Thursday it was time for the sprinters to return to the fray on stage seven with 164.2 kilometres of action on the menu as the Vuelta continued in the heat.
There was an attack inside 2km which saw four riders going clear, Pablo Lechuga (Andalucia), Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) the men in the break.
That quartet were only afforded five minutes as a highly-motivated Argos-Shimano squad helped control the peloton and RadioShack-Nissan also helped pull the bunch along in the closing stages.
There was a crash as the pace ramped up inside the final 10km, the peloton all looking to be well-placed on the tight circuit access roads.
The break was swallowed up as they began to attack one another, setting things up for Degenkolb to add to his win tally yet again.
After the stage Sports Director Nicolas Portal we pleased to see some impressive teamwork in the finale but was forced to rue a late puncture for Urán.
He said: “It was a tricky finish entering the track. The plan was to make sure Froomey was in a good position up front and out of danger and we achieved that. We used the strength of Ian and then the train to help Swifty at the end.
“There was a crash with around 10km to go and we had some bad luck as Rigo had a flat tyre but the car was blocked behind. We gave him a new bike but it was too hard to get back on and he lost time. Richie was also held up behind the crash but he was okay.
“The team are riding really well and we will need to be on top form again tomorrow for what is the first really big GC stage of the race.”