Team Sky’s Chris Froome is one step away from the Tour of Oman title after winning the 144km fifth stage ahead of Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador.
It was a really exciting finish coming down to a sprint between me, Alberto and Rodriguez. Luckily I just managed to get the better of them on the line.
Froome crossed the line half a wheel's length ahead of Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), a close third.
Australia's Cadel Evans (BMC) finished four seconds back in a group of six riders to confirm, after his third-place finish in the mountainous fourth stage, that he is already in form after a five-month spell away from competitive action.
In the general classification, with one stage to go, Froome is 27sec ahead of Contador and 39sec clear of Evans, who drops back to third.
“After yesterday I didn’t have much time to play with but the team controlled the race from the start and got on the front with Christian Knees and Joe Dombrowski," said Froome. This is Joe’s first race as a professional so he did an outstanding job to get to the first mountain pass having worked on the front and also to take us over that climb.
“The team tried to keep things together as well as they could and coming towards the final two climbs Saxo Bank and our rivals lit up the race and made it very hard. That left me isolated with Richie Porte to look after me. He did a fantastic job, taking me up to the final climb where I was able to cover the moves from Contador.
“It was a really exciting finish coming down to a sprint between me, Alberto and Rodriguez. Luckily I just managed to get the better of them on the line."
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 Sky rider edged across the line first after a sprint finish into the wind.
Evan’s team mate Philippe Gilbert, the reigning world champion, and last year's Tour of Oman winner Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), both came home in a group 34sec behind the stage winner.
More than eight minutes off the pace was 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard Trek).
Nine of the 141 riders who started the stage formed an early escape that managed to craft a maximum 2min 45sec lead at the 60km mark.
Zednek Stybar was active in the first five kilometres, joined by Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Matteo Trentin, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Markel Irizar (RadioShack Leopard Trek), Jesus Hernandez (Saxo-Tinkoff), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Andreas Schillinger (NetApp-Endura), Sebastien Minard (AG2R) and Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Katusha).
The break was caught with 21km left to race as the top general classification riders began their battle for supremacy.
Contador remained the main protagonist but he could not drop Froome. Rodriguez joined them to the top of the final climb and helped to grow their lead on the descent to 20sec over a chasing group of seven led by Evans.
The chase was unable to bridge after running out of road and time and the stage came down to a three-man sprint won by Froome, in front of Contador and Rodriguez.
Peter Sagan, who had won back-to-back stages in the Sultanate on Tuesday and Wednesday, abandoned the race before the stage began, citing illness.
The race ends with the sixth and final stage running 144km from Hawit Nagam park in the south of the emirate, and finishes in Muscat along the Matrah corniche.
Stage 5: 144km, Al Alam Palace to Boshar
1 Chris Froome (GBR) Sky 3hr 29min 19sec
2 Alberto Contador (ESP) Saxo-Tinkoff
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha
4 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE 0:00:04
5 Zdenek Stybar (CZE) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6 Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) AG2R
7 Johann Tschopp (SWI) IAM
8 Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC
9 Jesus Hernandez (ESP) Saxo-Tinkoff
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) AG2R 0:00:08
1 Chris Froome (GBR) Sky 20hr 04min 13sec
2 Alberto Contador (ESP) Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:27
3 Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC 0:00:39
4 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha 0:00:50
5 Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) AG2R 0:01:13
6 Johann Tschopp (SWI) IAM
7 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana 0:01:19
8 Kenny Elissonde (FRA) FDJ 0:01:34
9 Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) AG2R 0:01:44
10 Maxime Bouet (FRA) AG2R 0:02:00