Geraint Thomas finished second on stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico after fellow Brit Simon Yates broke clear on the summit finish at Sassotetto in Italy.
The Welsh rider crossed the line alongside Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) 35 seconds down on his rival from Mitchelton-Scott on the queen stage of the race.
Thomas moved up from sixth to third overall 39 seconds adrift of Yates and 23secs behind Majka with three stages left including a time trial where he should have the edge over Yates.
Yates, whose twin brother Adam is joining Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers team next season, took over the leaders jersey after Michael Woods was dropped on the final fearsome climb in the first serious summit finish of the race.
“I was feeling good,” said Thomas, who is using the race to sharpen up for next month’s Giro d’Italia where Yates will be one of his rivals. “When the guys started attacking I thought I’d follow Woods and let him do the work.
“He’s been riding so strong I thought he’d close the gaps but he didn’t seem to quite have it today. I had to close it which wasn’t ideal but I managed to get across.
“The three of us we were just messing around really. The other two riders kept attacking and then swinging over. If we’d just ridden together it would have been better but that’s just the way it goes.
“I’m pretty happy with where I am. It shows the work I’ve been doing has been worth it. It’s encouraging and I think this race will do me the world of good.”
The final climb was expected to shake up the General Classification and the as decisive as expected, with all of the GC favourites left scattered across the road at the finish.
Yates, who has won stages on all three Grand Tours and took overall victory at the Vuelta a Espana in 2018, proved the stronger to pick up the 10 bonus seconds with Thomas earning six for second.
“A really good day. A lot of good work from the team,” Yates said after the finish. “I knew I had good legs from yesterday already so today was a big opportunity to take the jersey, to take some time because with the TT on the last day I need a buffer.
“It was already a fast pace first by EF and then also Astana. Rafał Majka attacked to really start the show. I saw an opportunity and really took it. I saw straight away that I got a gap and then it was just full gas.
“We have to defend. It’s always difficult to defend the jersey. Then of course the time trial is not my strongest point, so we’ll see. But we’ll enjoy this today and then go from there.”
1 – Simon Yates (Mitchelton – Scott) – 202km in 5h30’43”
2 – Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) at 35″
3 – Rafal Majka (Bora – Hansgrohe) s.t.
1 – Simon Yates (Mitchelton – Scott)
2 – Rafal Majka (Bora – Hansgrohe) at 16″
3 – Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) at 39″