The two-man battle for victory in the Tour of the Basque Country was given a further airing on the 183km fifth stage from Bera to Oñati.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), finished ahead of second-placed Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) for the second consecutive day, this time by the narrowest of margins.
The Spaniards also occupy the top two places on the general classification, separated by just nine seconds with one stage remaining.
Rodriguez described the pace over a rolling parcours of three third category climbs and a pair of category two cols, as “crazy”.
“I wanted to keep the leader’s jersey and gain as many seconds as I could before tomorrow’s individual time trial. In the last kilometres, I left the responsibility to Sanchez. I think he has some chances to win the overall standings.
“After today’s performance, I think it will be a little easier to make the final podium. I gained some seconds, but even if it’s not a classic race against the clock, with many downhills, it will be hard for me to keep the head of the competition, even if obviously I’ll do my best.
“Tony Martin is 56 seconds behind, but let’s not forget he’s the ITT World Champion,” said Oliver.
Rodriguez and Sanchez contested the sprint after launching continual attacks in the closing kilometres.
Sanchez said the cold, rain, and continual attacks had left him exhausted, and gave a measured assessment of his chances in tomorrow’s closing individual time trial.
“The time trial is a very technical track, and more than a specialist. It will be important to have the strength after five days of a demanding race. I have my feet on the ground and I know it will be very difficult to win. There are big rivals and I hope to give my best to achieve a good result,” he said.
Britain’s Team Sky enjoyed another solid day with a top five finish for the team’s Norwegian climber, Lars Petter Nordhaug, who moved to fourth overall.
Directeur sportif, Marcus Ljungqvist, warned that tomorrow’s 18.9km time trial would be “brutal”.
“We’ve just been looking at the course now and it’s not a normal time trial – it’s going to be brutal; short, steep climbs, very narrow roads and tricky downhills.
“There is a section in the middle where you can really ride but it’s very technical and not the sort of TT we’re used to,” he said.
Tour of the Basque Country stage five – result
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha – 4.27.16
2) Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
3) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Astana +2”
4) Vasili Kiryienka (BLR) – Movistar +5”
5) Lars Petter Nordhaug (NOR) – Team Sky
6) Daniele Ratto (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale
7) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-ISD
8) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-ISD +7”
9) Rui Costa (POR) – Movistar
10) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha – 20.29.18
2 Samuel Sanchez (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +9”
3) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Astana +26”
4) Lars Petter Nordhaug (NOR) – Team Sky +33”
5) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-ISD
6) Sergio Henao (COL) – Team Sky +34”
7) Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto Belisol +35”
8) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Barracuda +40”
9) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-ISD
10) Christopher Horner (USA)- RadioShack-Nissan-Trek + 44”
11 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team