Chris Froome (Team Sky) maintained his fourth place overall at the Vuelta a España as he finished in the same group as his major GC rivals, five seconds behind stage winner Dani Navarro (Cofidis) in Obregón.
Froome is currently 1:20 minute down on race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) ahead of three decisive GC stages.
An 11-rider break which formed early on the 188km stage from Belorado to Obregón splintered when they hit the early slopes on the Alto del Caracol as several teams including Team Sky started to up the tempo via Christian Knees and Peter Kennaugh.
The GC riders were all massing toward the front of the peloton before the final rise to the finish line when Navarro launched his winning attack. Froome tried a small attack as he went under the flamme rouge but he was brought back and crossed the line without conceding any time to his top rivals.
After the stage, sports director Dario Cioni told the team website he was happy with his riders ahead of three tough days of racing to come.
"Everything went to plan today and I was happy with how everyone performed," he said. "They are all working hard to support Chris and he's still in a good position ahead of these tough stages to come.
"We've got three difficult days ahead of us - especially tomorrow and Monday - which have really tough climbs at the end. Of course, you can't count out Lagos de Covadonga on Saturday either, and we'll need to be at the top of our game if we're going to stay in contention on the GC."
Cioni added that while Froome hasn't ridden the roads that will feature in the days to come, the team is confident it thoroughly prepared the 2013 Tour de France winner for what is to come.
"[Second DS] Dan Frost has re-conned all those climbs, and although Chris hasn't ridden them himself, he's been well briefed on what is to come," he added.
While Froome is yet to show the kind of form which saw him dominant last year's Tour, Cioni is confident that the 29-year-old will finish the race strongly.
"He's going to take things day by day, he's set personal targets, and if he can achieve those we could be in good shape for the final stages."
In his two previous appearances at the Vuelta, Froome has finished second (2011) and fourth (2012).
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