Chris Froome of Britain won the fifth stage of the Tour of Oman cycle race on Friday to retain the overall leader's red jersey.
At the end of the 144 kilometre stage from from Al Alam Palace in Muscat to Boshar, Sky rider Froome crossed the line half a wheel's length ahead of Spain's Alberto Contador, with another Spaniard, Joaquim Rodriguez, a close third.
Australia's Cadel Evans finished four seconds back in a group of six riders to confirm, after his third-place finish in Thursday's mountainous fourth stage, that he is already in form after a five-month spell away from competitive action.
In the overall standings, with one stage to go, Froome is 27 seconds ahead of Contador and 39 seconds clear of Evans, who drops back to third.
Rodriguez, winner of the fourth stage, is fourth, 50 seconds off the pace.
The stage included three climbs of the Bousher Almarat in succession, and Contador and Evans had both broken away from Froome on the final ascent.
However, Froome and Rodriguez eventually caught up with Contador, as Evans tailed away, and the British rider edged across the line first after a sprint finish into the wind.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert, the world champion, and last year's Tour of Oman winner Peter Velits of Slovakia, both came home in a group 34 seconds behind, but the stage turned out to be another struggle for Bradley Wiggins.
Froome's Sky team-mate was more than eight minutes off the pace, as was Swiss star Fabian Cancellara.
Earlier, Slovakia's Peter Sagan, who had won back-to-back stages in the Sultanate on Tuesday and Wednesday, abandoned the race before the stage began.
The race ends on Saturday with the sixth and final stage, another 144km ride, from Hawit Nagam park in the south of the emirate, and finishes in Muscat along the Matrah corniche.