By Alastair Fotheringham
CACERES, Spain (Reuters) - Double world time trial champion Tony Martin came close to a spectacular solo breakaway victory in the Tour of Spain on Thursday after attacking at the start of stage six and staying clear for 175-km.
The German was finally caught by the peloton less than 20 meters from the end, Dane Michael Morkov claiming the stage win in a sprint finish while Vincenzo Nibali of Italy maintained his slim overall lead.
"I had to try it. I was hoping two or three other guys would come with me and at the end it was so close I could have won," Martin told reporters.
"When I found nobody else had joined me in the attack I thought about dropping back again but I opted to keep going."
As temperatures reached 30 degrees on the rolling, feature-less plains of western Spain, Martin built an advantage of seven minutes 20 seconds before the chasing pack reeled him in.
The German, with a lead of just five seconds, then pulled away again as he approached Caceres.
"I made sure I had a little bit of energy left for the finale and I never thought I would get so close," said Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider Martin after ending up in seventh position. "But it was a good day for the fans and the sport."
Morkov said he had never taken part in a bunch sprint before Thursday's chaotic dash for the line.
"As there was nobody else in the team who was faster, I had that role," the Danish national champion explained.
"I got on Fabian Cancellara's wheel and to tell the truth I had no idea when to accelerate. I thought I had calculated wrong but there was a bit of a tailwind and that helped," he said of the Swiss rider who finished third in the stage.
"Without Cancellara accelerating though I'd never have won."
Argentina's Maximiliano Richeze was second for the second straight day.
Astana rider Nibali is now three seconds clear of American Chris Horner with Ireland's Nicolas Roche eight seconds off the overall lead.
The Tour of Spain ends in Madrid on September 15.
(Editing by Tom Bartlett)