Primoz Roglic boosted his lead in the Vuelta a Espana ahead of Saturday's brutal penultimate stage that will determine the race winner.
Before they tackle a day in the mountains, where so much could yet change, Roglic finished runner-up on stage 16 to Magnus Cort Nielsen in a sprint finish in Ciudad Rodrigo.
Slovenian Roglic picked up six bonus seconds for his efforts, allowing him to swell his lead to 45 seconds over Richard Carapaz.
Cort Nielsen (EF Pro Cycling) recovered from COVID-19 to return to training three weeks before the Vuelta began, and he found a gap in the bunch hurtling towards the finish line to edge ahead of the field.
Roglic closely tracked him, finding a strong burst himself at the end of the 162-kilometre ride from Salamanca.
A purposeful break from Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-Scott) and Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step) had earlier seen the escapees build a lead of around five minutes over the peloton.
Cavagna went it alone inside the final 20 kilometres in a bold solo bid, with the last of the hills out of the way, and he led a steadily closing pack by 15 seconds with five kilometres remaining.
But the Frenchman could not stay in front as the peloton worked together, and he had been swallowed up with two kilometres remaining, setting up the dash for the line.
1. Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Pro Cycling) 4:04:35
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) same time
3. Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) same time
5. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) same time
1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 64:20:31
2. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) +00:45
3. Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) +00:53
1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 198
2. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) 123
3. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) 111
King of the Mountains
1. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) 89
2. Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) 34
3. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) 30
The 178.2km ride from Sequeros to the mountaintop finish at Alto de La Covatilla on Saturday will determine the winner of La Vuelta. There are tough climbs awaiting the riders from the early stages in the saddle, as they chase glory ahead of Sunday's processional finale, when they take the road to Madrid.