Chris Froome will go into Sunday’s final day of the Tour de Romandie one second behind leader Simon Spilak after finishing in the peloton on a fourth stage won by breakaway rider Michael Albasini.
Albasini formed part of a five-man escape early in the day and although two of that group were dropped in the closing kilometres, the remaining trio survived all the way to the finish in Fribourg.
Swiss rider Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) then picked up his third win of the race by comfortably beating Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) into second and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) into third.
Spilak (Katusha) and Froome (Team Sky), who had risen to the top of the standings by finishing first and second respectively on stage three, both followed nine seconds later in a reduced main bunch.
The result means Froome is firm favourite to win the race for the second year in succession given that only an 18.5km individual time trial remains on stage five and that he has traditionally proved to be a stronger time-triallist than his Slovenian rival.
The 174km fourth stage took place over six laps of a rolling circuit starting and finishing in Fribourg, in western Switzerland.
Albasini, Voeckler and Bakelants were allowed to break away alongside Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Jean-Marc Marino (Cannondale), and the quintet swiftly built up a maximum lead of more than 6min 20sec.
With none of the five a threat in the general classification, Team Sky spent the first three-quarters of the stage on the front of the peloton and were happy to let the escapees stay away.
Other teams including Tinkoff-Saxo, Trek Factory Racing and Giant-Shimano decided to take over the chase entering the final 25km, but their response came too late and when the breakaway still had over a minute’s lead going into the last 10km, it became clear they would not be caught.
An attack from Bakelants on the day’s final climb led to Vuillermoz and Marino being dropped, but Albasini stayed in contact and went on to win the three-man sprint with ease.
Stage four result
1 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge, 4:14:21
2 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar, same time
3 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st
4 Davide Appollonio (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +9secs
5 Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ, st
6 Oscar Gatto (Ita) Cannondale, st
7 Ramunas Navardauskas (lit) Gamin-Sharp, st
8 Luka Mezgec (Slo) Giant-Shimano, st
9 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
10 Tony Hurel (Fra) Europcar, st
16 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, st
34 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha, st
1 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha, 15:53:55
2 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, +1
3 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida, +1:02
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, +1:06
5 Mathias Frank (Swi) IAM Cycling, +1:10
6 Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar, +1:13
7 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +1:14
8 Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar, +1:40
9 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Movistar, +1:48
10 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp, 1:50