Mark Cavendish all but confirmed overall victory at the Tour of Qatar by sprinting to a third win in a row on stage five.
The Omega Pharma - Quick-Step rider held off Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r-La Mondiale) to claim 10 bonus seconds and extend his overall lead to a seemingly insurmountable 15 seconds.
With Friday's short concluding stage set to finish in another sprint that will offer little chance for a breakaway, it appears only a crash can now prevent Cavendish winning the second stage race of his career.
The Manxman admitted afterwards: "I hope I have won it. We knew if we got through today it would be easier."
Cavendish was given the hardest race of his three stage wins in Qatar so far by Hutarovich, but had enough speed to resist the Belarusian national champion's late charge and win by half a wheel.
There were three Britons in the top five, with Adam Blythe (BMC) crossing the line fourth, just ahead of Team Sky's Luke Rowe.
Cavendish, who also claimed three bonus seconds by winning the day's second intermediate sprint, paid tribute to his team-mates for delivering him safely to the sprint and at the head of the peloton.
"I was always at the front with five or six guys around me and they looked after me," he said.
"We came through at the last minute and I just went. I am really happy with that. Hutarovich was coming alongside me but I was able to hold him off."
Stage five took the riders on a flat, 154km route from Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal in the far north of Qatar.
An early breakaway group darted up the road but they were hauled back in time for Cavendish to win the second intermediate sprint ahead of Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky) and Taylor Phinney (BMC).
The latter two riders then formed a breakaway with Cavendish's team-mate and chief lead-out man, Niki Terpstra, the Dutch national champion, only to be caught with 14km to go.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step immediately took up station on the front of the peloton and while in previous days they had struggled to maintain their numbers, this time they entered the final 2km with five men still shepherding Cavendish.
With 350m to go and only Terpstra remaining in front of him, Cavendish launched his sprint and although Hutarovich attempted to counter-attack, he was unable to deny the former world champion a fourth victory of the season.
Cavendish added: "The last two days I have had 100 per cent commitment from everyone but we weren't together. We had a word last night and from the word go today they rode incredibly."
Stage five result
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, 3:11.11; 2 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Ag2r-La Mondiale, same time; 3 Aidis Kruopis (Lit) Orica-GreenEDGE, st; 4 Adam Blythe (GB) BMC, st; 5 Luke Rowe (GB) Team Sky, st; 6 John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano, st; 7 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha, st; 8 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ, st; 9 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling, st; 10 Roger Kluge (Ger) NetApp-Endura
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma -Quick-Step, 13:30.59; 2 Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC, +15secs; 3 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC, +20; 4 Adam Blythe (GB) BMC, +22; 5 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Sky, +24; 6 Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC, +25; 7 Michael Schar (Sui) BMC, +25; 8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky, +29; 9 Luke Rowe (GB) Team Sky, +30; 10 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, +30