Tour of Catalonia leader Michael Albasini (GreenEdge) has taken a massive step towards his biggest ever victory after keeping his rivals at bay on a tough mountain stage, despite very limited support, on Friday.
Albasini finished seventh on the 207 kilometre stage in the race's third small group sprint in four days, won on this occasion by Saur-Sojasun rider Julien Simon. Rigoberto Uran (Sky), the winner of stage four, finished a close second.
Isolated from his team-mates in the front group of around 15 riders, and in trouble as the race crossed the summit of the main challenge of the day, the 10 kilometre first category Monserrat climb, despite clearly being on the back foot, Albasini played a very weak hand with real skill.
The former Tour of Britain winner let his rivals, who are largely grouped at just over 92 seconds behind him, chase each other down and cancel out each other's moves.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) looked to be the most dangerous rival on the ascent, Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) on the rolling false flats that followed and Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the fast descent. They were all briefly off the front, but - despite Albasini having no support - were reeled in.
Despite Omega Pharma-QuickStep, headed by an in-form Levi Leipheimer upping the pace again on the approach roads to the finish town of Manresa, Albasini was still there, bobbing around in sixth or seventh place. After what was a classic lesson in how to divide and rule in a stage race, Albasini even had enough energy to make a dig for the final sprint.
Barring last-minute disaster, in the two fairly easy days that remain, Albasini should not have too much difficulty now in retaining the lead right the way through to the finish in Barcelona on Sunday.
If there were question marks over whether he was a deserving leader after Catalonia's main high mountain stage was partly cancelled because of poor weather, in today's stage the Swiss rider provided a convincing answer to his critics.
Tour of Catalonia 2012, stage five: Ascó La vostra energia to Manresa, 207.1km
1. Julien Simon (Fra) Saur-Sojasun in 4-58-27
2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky
3. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale
4. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
7. Michael Albasini (Swi) GreenEdge
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Barracuda
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Michael Albasini (Swi) GreenEdge
2. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol at 1-32
3. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Barracuda at 1-32
4. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-32
5. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky at 1-32
6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 1-32
7. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Barracuda at 1-32
8. Sergio Pardilla (Spa) Movistar at 1-32
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana at 1-32
10. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-32
Julien Simon edges ahead of Rigoberto Uran (left) to take the win
Tour of Catalonia 2012: Latest news
Azevedo on Catalonia chaos: 'it's war out there'
Tour of Catalonia 2012: Stage reports
Stage four: Uran takes Tour of Catalonia stage for Sky
Stage three: Brajkovik wins shortened stage; Albasini remains leader
Stage two: Albasini claims second stage win
GreenEdge win again as Albasini takes Catalunya opener
Tour of Catalonia 2012: Photo galleries
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
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