Sir Bradley Wiggins kept himself in contention for overall victory at the Tour of Catalunya by digging deep on the race’s punishing queen stage.
The Briton crossed the line in sixth place, one minute, two seconds down on the stage winner Dan Martin, after Team Sky entered the final climb with depleted numbers, having earlier been forced to lead a taxing chase on the front of the peloton for most of the day.
Wiggins is now fourth in the general classification, 36 seconds behind new leader Martin from the Garmin-Sharp team, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 10 seconds down in second and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 32 seconds adrift in third.
The Spaniard and Colombian launched late attacks out of a thinned-down peloton in the last 2km to take second and third respectively on the stage. That forced Wiggins to respond and thanks to a late surge, he crossed the line 24 seconds behind the duo despite losing team members who fell off the pace.
Team Sky had earlier led the chase in the peloton with Josh Edmondson, Dario Cataldo, David Lopez and Rigoberto Uran drivng up a fierce pace as they looked to usher leader Wiggins up to the front of the race.
Earlier in the day, overnight leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) abandoned the race after a crash on a speedy descent midway through the stage.
After the stage, Team Sky’s sports director Marcus Ljungqvist said: “Twenty-three guys went away and Movistar started controlling things, but then Valverde crashed out and it was then up to us to take control. We slowed down for Valverde, so the breakaway got more time – nearly 4:30 – but we managed to bring it back to about 1:20. But then Martin rode so well on the last climb and we couldn’t catch him. It is going to be difficult to challenge for the general classification, but second place is still up for grabs. The race is not over and we are not giving up. With all that happened today, we should look at ourselves and be pretty happy with our ride.”
The race’s fourth stage took the riders on a punishing 217km route over five categorised climbs from Llanars to Port-Aine Rialp.