Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of the Caisse d'Epargne retained his slim 16-second lead over Cadel Evans after the sixth stage of the Dauphine Libéré race here on Friday.
Valverde, Evans and 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador crossed the finish line together 4min 12sec after the winner of the gruelling 106km stage from Gap to Briançon, Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo of the Bouygues team.
"It was a fairly quiet day even though you can never say the climb up the Izoard is easy," Valverde said. "Then Contador attacked towards the end and we had to respond."
But the Spanish racer warned Saturday would see some harder action. "I expect to be under attack. The climb up the Madeleine is very strenuous. Evans and Contador are the most dangerous competitors," he warned.
Fedrigo edged ahead of Belgian Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick-Step) as the leading group closed on the finish line in the narrow streets of Briançon.
The French rider was among front runners who had made it ahead of the pack over the Col d'Izoard, the main challenge on the stage of the race that serves as a key warm-up to the July 4-26 Tour de France.
A group of 14 riders attacked the summit climb some five minutes ahead of the rest, with five riders breaking away to speed down the descent.
"We knew that it would be fast," said the 30-year-old stage winner. "I realised I was riding better all the time, then I was able to impose my own rhythm, staying concentrated on the last metres."
Pierrick Fedrigo wins stage 6
It was the first stage win in the Dauphine race for Fedrigo, winner of a Tour de France stage in 2006.
Third on the day was 39-year-old Frenchman Stephane Goubert of the AG2R team.
Saturday's penultimate stage is a tough 157 kilometre mountain route from here to Saint-Francois-Longchamp. The event concludes on Sunday in the Alpine city of Grenoble.
© AFP 2009
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