Primoz Roglic seized the overall lead of cycling’s Criterium du Dauphine after finishing second, 13sec behind winner Carlos Verona in a gruelling Alpine slog on Saturday.
With around 60km of ascent along the route, Slovenian Roglic launched a sudden attack on the last of three climbs on this penultimate stage where none of his rivals was able to follow.
The three-time Vuelta a Espana winner now leads his teammate Jonas Vingegaard by 44sec in the overall standings.
A serene Roglic said he had had a great day, but was taking nothing for granted.
“We know that tomorrow is the queen stage, the final one and we have to be there and do our best.”
After a hot day in the saddle, Australian Tour de France hope Ben O’Connor climbed to third overall at 1min 24sec.
Another potential contender Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart finished a few seconds adrift and is still in the mix at 1min 30sec.
Hart, the winner of the 2020 Giro d’Italia, said this week he was unsure he would be on the Tour de France, but another performance Sunday should see him get the nod for the Ineos line-up.
The 29-year-old Verona scored his first ever professional win on a day when the peloton passed banks of snow atop the first climb, the Alpine giant Col du Galibier at 2,642m.
“It’s so nice, now I’ll have the photos to put on the wall,” he said.
“We were here recently with the team for a reconnaissance ride,” Verona said of the Galibier climb that features on July 14 Tour de France stage.
Sunday’s final test culminates in an 11km climb at nine percent gradient on a 138km stage with two category one mountains.
Former Tour de France winner Chris Froome pulled out ahead of the ride, due to illness, his Israel Premier Tech team said.
Froome, 37, last won the Tour in 2017 and suffered serious injuries during the 2019 Dauphine.
“It’s disappointing to leave the race unfinished but I’ve been progressing well and don’t want to set myself back at this important stage of the season,” said the 37-year-old.