Italy's Vincenzo Nibali stretched his overall lead over Spain's Ezequiel Mosquera in the Tour of Spain after Friday's 19th stage, won by Belgium's Philippe Gilbert.
Gilbert, of the Omega Pharma team, edged American Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Transitions and third-placed Italian Filippo Pozzato of Katusha in an uphill sprint finish to the 231.2km race from Piedrahita and Toledo, the longest stage in the event.
Nibali, of Liquigas, finished in sixth place just one second behind the winner and increased his lead over Mosquera, of Xacobeo, to 50 seconds. Mosquera finished 23rd, 13 seconds behind Gilbert. Slovakia's Peter Velits is third, 1min, 59sec behind Nibali.
The title decider is expected to come on Saturday's mountainous penultimate stage; a 168.8km ride which ends on the summit of the Bola del Mundo in the Guadarrama mountain range northwest of Madrid.
"I followed Gilbert, I knew that he was fastest, the man to beat and that I wouldn't lose time," said Nibali, who added that he was concerned about Saturday's race. "I don't know the Bola del Mundo climb, but I'm worried, I have already climbed very difficult summits in Italy."
Mosquera said he was disappointed by his performance, but, despite slipping further behind Nibali, he remains determined to grab the leader's jersey on Saturday.
"Frank Schleck almost fell in the bend and we were cut off from the main pack, while Nibali found a spot behind Gilbert," he said. "It was a really stressful finish. I will have to do it all tomorrow (Saturday). The first Spanish winner of the Tour de France, Federico Martin Bahamontes, said it: 'You have to attack when you are down'. That's the key."
Gilbert, who won the third stage, said he was delighted to do the double.
© AFP 2010
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"I'm happy, I know that I'll reach the top of my form in the World Championships," he said. “It was good preparation."
The 21-stage Tour of Spain wraps up in Madrid on Sunday.