Bradley Wiggins retained fourth place in the Tour of Catalonia but lost ground on the leader, Daniel Martin, in a frantic finish to stage five.
However, Team Sky’s sports director, Marcus Ljungqvist, remains hopeful that his rider can make up time before the end of the race tomorrow.
Wiggins played it safe with one kilometre to go in the 156km stage by sitting up while sprinters’ teams jostled frantically for position. But a series of roundabouts disrupted the run-in and speeds exceeded 60kmh, which led to late splits in the peloton that caught out all general classification contenders except Martin.
The Canadian cyclist Francois Parisien of the Argos team won the stage in 3 hours 32 minutes and two seconds.
Martin had decided to contest the bunch sprint and finished ninth, but Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) lost three seconds and Wiggins and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) both nine.
The Irishman also claimed one bonus second in an intermediate sprint, so now leads Rodriguez overall by 14 seconds, with Quintana 42 seconds adrift in third and Wiggins 46 seconds back in fourth.
The stage gave riders the chance to recover from the gruelling mountain test on Thursday, as it was almost entirely downhill from Rialp to Lleida.
Olivier Kaisen (Lotto-Belisol) and Tristan Valentin (Cofidis) opened up a three-minute gap in the stage’s only climb 69km in, but they were quickly reeled in.
After the stage, Ljungqvist said: “There were a few splits at the end. Brad lost a few seconds, but nothing major has changed on the general classification.
“Brad was wanting to stay safe but he ended up behind the split. A few other guys were caught out. Tomorrow [Saturday] we need to take any opportunity there is to change the general classification, but Sunday will be the most important day.”
Riders face a 178.7km ride from Almacelles to Valls today, before the week long race ends in Barcelona.