Andre Greipel put in a desperate chase to move within sight of a second Tour Down Under win on Saturday as Lance Armstrong's faint hopes ended on the race's most notorious climb.
In a thrilling finale, Greipel made up vital seconds in the last kilometres after world champion Cadel Evans led a fierce breakaway over stage five's feared Willunga Hill.
Greipel battled back to finish within nine seconds of stage winner Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez, another former Tour Down Under winner, giving him an overall lead of 11 seconds going into Sunday's final stage around central Adelaide.
The German sprint specialist, backed by his HTC-Columbia team, will be strong favourite to clinch victory over the mainly flat, 90-kilometre (56 miles) course after winning three stages already.
"It was just awesome from the guys," Greipel said. "There was no time to panic, we just needed to chase - we were 40 seconds behind.
"Tomorrow I just want to go with the guys in front. Hopefully there will be not so many attacks. But I think with a strong team like I have we can hold on to the jersey."
Milram's Luke Roberts finished second, Tour of Spain Alejandro Valverde was third and Evans fourth, but Armstrong was left trailing on the second pass over Willunga Hill and remains 47 seconds adrift overall.
The American, 38, is using the race as preparation for his attempt on an eighth Tour de France title in July which would make him the race's oldest winner.
"It was good the first time, bad the second time. No excuses, that's my own fault. I fell asleep a little bit," he said. "I don't know if I would have had the legs to go with those (leading) guys, they're riding well."
Meanwhile Greipel's HTC-Columbia team-mate Michael Rogers said it was a group effort to drag the sprinter over Willunga Hill and close the gap on the leaders.
"We were a little bit nervous leading into the final eight or nine kilometres but we used our experience and our brains," Rogers said. "It came off perfectly in the end. We didn't win the stage but first and foremost we held on to the (leader's) jersey."
Greipel crashed out of last year's Tour Down Under when he hit a parked police motorbike, ending his title defence and sidelining him for four months following shoulder surgery.
"He will be hard to beat (on Sunday)," Rogers said. "We'll be very motivated for the bunch sprint and he's clearly moving much faster than anyone else in the last 200 metres of the race."
Armstrong is the biggest name in a strong field including 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro and Evans, who has twice finished second in cycling's biggest race.
Tour of Spain champion Valverde, another major star, is fighting a two-year doping ban in Italy as well as attempts to extend it worldwide.
© AFP 2010
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com
You can follow BikeRadar on Twitter at twitter.com/bikeradar.