Spain’s Benat Intxausti is on course to win the Tour of Beijing after claiming victory on stage four to take the race lead.
The 27-year-old Movistar rider attacked with 2km of the 12.6km ascent remaining and held off a determined counter from Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to triumph by three seconds.
With bonus seconds taken into account, Intxausti now leads Martin in the general classification by 10 seconds and only a remarkable sequence of events on Tuesday’s flat final day will deny him the biggest stage-race victory of his career.
The race’s queen stage, which included three categorised climbs, always looked set to be decisive in the overall outcome of the tour and after the day’s breakaway had been caught 5km before it started, a shootout for victory between the best climbers in the field ensued.
Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Marco Pinotti (BMC) and Josh Edmondson (Team Sky) were the first riders to strike out, but despite opening up a small gap, they failed to build on it and were soon reeled back in.
David Lopez (Team Sky) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) fared far better when they launched the next move, swiftly creating a 20-second gap between themselves and the chasing pack with 4km to go.
However, both Martin and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) spotted the danger and their combined counter-attacks pulled themselves and the rest of the peloton back up the lead duo with 2.5km to go.
Intxausti then surged ahead with a stinging burst 2km out and although Lopez, Martin and Rui Costa all launched counters, only Martin was able to make serious inroads into the Spaniard’s advantage.
With 500m to go it looked like he would snatch the victory, but he ran out of steam at the death and Intxausti held on. Lopez out-sprinted Costa to claim third place.
Intxausti now only has to survive a 117km fifth stage ending with 12 laps of a flat finishing circuit next to the Bird’s Nest Stadium to seal overall victory.