CSC's Chris-Anker Sorensen won the sixth and penultimate stage of the Dauphiné Libéré after a courageous solo raid which ended on the summit finish at La Toussuire Saturday.
Spanish ace Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d'Epargne retained his race lead over Cadel Evans after the Australian had launched a futile attack in the closing kilometres of the day's final climb.
Evans, the runner-up on the race last year who rides for Silence, is now 39 seconds behind Valverde, of Caisse d'Epargne, ahead of Sunday's 128km final stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Grenoble and which features three climbs.
Sorensen had launched his attack after just 50 km of the 233 km stage, considered the most difficult of the eight-day race, and came over the finish line casting an imaginary fishing rod and reeling something in as he claimed what will be the biggest win of his career.
In second place was Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo, who pulled ahead of the peloton for the sole hope of finishing second.
Evans and Valverde are expected to headline next month's battle for the Tour de France yellow jersey, for which the Australian finished runner-up last year.
Valverde looking strong for Tour
Valverde showed some of the composure that could prove crucial in July's Tour de France as he soaked up an attack by Dauphiné Libéré rival Cadel Evans here Saturday.
Evans launched what looked to be a promising attack five kilometres from the summit finish of the sixth stage, considered the toughest of the race, only to see his efforts cost him two seconds.
Ahead of Sunday's final stage, Valverde coolly retained the leader's yellow jersey and increased his lead over the Australian to 39 seconds.
Evans, last year's runner-up in both the Dauphine and the Tour de France, is set to be Valverde's biggest rival in next month's three-week epic which begins July 5.
But the 31-year-old Australian knows he will have to pick his moments to attack more carefully if he is to shake up the highly-fancied Spaniard.
As Denmark's Chris-Anker Sorensen raced solo to the biggest win of his career, Evans tried to close his 37-second deficit to Valverde by attacking the Spaniard.
However the Spaniard never flinched. After five minutes of toil on his own, Evans was stunned to see he had been joined by Levi Leipheimer after the American jumped out from behind Valverde to close a gap of just 200 metres.
With nearly 230km in their legs, the pair failed to produce the collaboration that would keep Valverde at bay, and the Spaniard's more regular cadence soon allowed him to catch Evans and Leipheimer just before the finish line.
Valverde even stretched his overall lead on Evans to 39 seconds ahead of Sunday's hilly stage which, on paper, would give the Australian a chance of attacking.
But Valverde is confident he can hold on.
"Even if the race isn't over yet, I think I've done what I have to do (to win)," said Valverde, whose biggest win this season was in April when he won the tough Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic for the second time.
"There was a little bit of a breeze so I preferred to keep pedalling at a regular rhythm - even moreso as I haven't done six and a half hours in a race since the classics," he added. "I just kept Evans in my sights so I could close the gap to him in the final kilometre."
Evans admitted it was his last real chance to beat Valverde.
"I'm climbing well, but not enough to win. I had nothing to lose," said Evans, who hit out at Leipheimer's tactics in the final kilometres. "Leipheimer jumps up to join me then decides he doesn't want to work together (to distance Valverde). I just don't understand some riders."
Stage winner Sorensen had been part of an earlier breakaway, but as the peloton closed in on a small group of stage leaders after the descent of the Glandon climb the Dane sniffed the danger and broke away on his own at the foot of the final climb.
The 23-year-old's decision, and subsequent efforts, handed him a prestigious win at the same finish line where compatriot Michael Rasmussen, thrown off last year's Tour de France in disgrace, claimed victory on the 2006 edition of the race.
Sorensen brushed away any comparisons with Rasmussen, saying: "I hope to be Denmark's next big climber. It couldn't happen on a bigger race for me, or a bigger stage."
For a complete report with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008