Defending champion Primoz Roglic extended his overall lead of the Vuelta a Espana by finishing in second place on the 16th stage ahead of Saturday's crucial penultimate day of racing.
Slovenian Roglic finished behind Denmark's Magnus Cort Nielsen to increase his advantage over Richard Carapaz to 45 seconds heading into the final weekend of the race that finishes in Madrid on Sunday.
Saturday's mountainous run represents the last chance for Carapaz and third-placed Hugh Carthy to threaten Jumbo Visma's Roglic for the title with a 178.2km ride from Sequeros to the hilltop Alto de La Covatilla, before Sunday's processional stage into the Spanish capital.
"I was a little bit short at the end but it was a nice day for the whole team," he said.
"I think definitely today, six seconds, there is still a big day coming tomorrow, the decisive one. We just need to maintain focus and do our best and see what it means," he added.
Education First's Cort, who won two stages at the 2016 Vuelta, edged an aggressive Roglic while Portuguese rider Rui Costa came third at the finish line.
"I timed it pretty well, I came through the last corner in a decent position and then I was sitting, looking for an opening," Cort said.
"I found that with 200m to go and I went with everything I had," he added.
Angel Madrazo, in his home country, and Colombian Juan Felipe Osorio from Spanish team Burgos BH made the early break after less than 20km.
Their breakaway grew to include Frenchman Remi Cavagna and Australian Robert Stannard who extended their lead to five minutes over the peloton with 100km left ahead of the two category climbs of the day.
With 39km remaining and with the breakaway up El Robledo, Cavagna went alone and was only caught by Stannard as the peloton continued to eat into the advantage.
On the calm descent from the only sprint section of the day's action the lead was down to 20 seconds ahead of the final 30km before the pair were caught in the final 20km.
The peloton rushed into the western town of Cuidad Rodrigo in dry conditions with Roglic near the front of the bunch and Cort tucked behind before turning on the gas to pip Costa to take the win.