Earle was not able however, to gain enough time on overall leader Michael Torckler (BikeNZ – PureBlack) with the pair jostling for victory after breaking free from a group of 13 breakaway riders that started the final climb of the gruelling stage together.
From the start of the stage seven riders had escaped the bunch and as the group of 13 riders which included Torckler and Earle started the final 15 kilometres they caught the first of two remnants of that group, 7-Eleven by Road Bike Philippines' Mark John Lexer Galedo, and then Jonathan Lovelock (Genesys Wealth Advisers) with 14 kilometres to go.
With three kilometres to go, it was Earle, Torckler and Polygon-Sweet Nice's Bambang Suryadi, who was dropped as the leading duo raced up the final two kilometres. At the finish, and realizing that he had retained the yellow jersey, Torckler just cruised over the finish line behind Earle, who added the red jersey for the king of the mountains classification to his stage win.
"It was a tough, long stage, but I like the climbs so I'm happy to have won here. The plan was to go for the yellow jersey, but Michael was amazingly strong today. There was nothing we could do to break him," said Earle.
Heading into the final stage today, Torckler holds a six seconds lead over Earle in the general classification and hopes everything goes well in the stage from Kundasang to Kota Kinabalu tomorrow.
"I've not rode in such a long stage for a long time, so I'm happy that my body kept up with it. It's such a great feeling to be able to ride like this after being out of the sport for a year as I recovered from a broken knee cap," said Torckler.
"Tomorrow, I hope all of my teammates are in good shape for the final stage. We need to control the race and bring the yellow jersey to the finish."
Malaysia's Shahrul Mat Amin of the Terengganu Cycling Team produced an impressive performance in the stage, finishing fourth behind Earle, Torckler and Bambang to take over the Malaysian riders white jersey.
"My coach's instructions were for me to stay in the front group and try to climb. So I tried to stay with the riders in the front and managed to do so until the final climb, then the leaders just went away and I was running out of steam. All I could do was watch," said Shahrul.
"I am happy to have taken the Malaysian riders jersey, but quite disappointed that I couldn't do enough to take the Asian riders' jersey."
Kazakhstan's Sergey Kuzmin finished seventh in the stage and took charge of the Asian riders classification lead by the skin of his teeth, being tied on time with Tonton Susanto of Indonesia's Putra Perjuangan team, while Shahrul is third, just three seconds adrift.
The Tour of Borneo ends with a 112.4km final stage from Kundasang to Kota Kinabalu.