Tadej Pogacar added two seconds to his advantage over defending champion Adam Yates at the UAE Tour as Jonas Vingegaard took stage-five victory.
The 170km test to the summit at Jebel Jais was Yates' best hope of dislodging Tour de France champion Pogacar from the top of the general classification.
But the expected scrap between the leading protagonists never fully materialised on the 21.5km drag up to the finish.
Instead, the main group marked each other, with a late dig from Jumbo-Visma's Vingegaard enough for the victory while Pogacar crossed the line second, just in front of Yates, to snatch bonus seconds that increased his overall lead to 45 seconds.
With two flat stages remaining of the opening WorldTour race of the season, it would likely take an incident — or a repeat of the opening stage crosswinds — to deny Pogacar victory in the home race for his UAE Team Emirates squad.
Yates, making his debut for the Ineos Grenadiers, will feel confident of keeping his second place with a 27-advantage over Deceuninck-QuickStep's Joao Almeida.
Chris Froome, continuing his rehabilitation in his Israel Start-up Nation debut, rode in one minute and 42 seconds behind the leaders after helping team-mate Ben Hermans.
"In the final there I was trying to hang on in the bunch for as long as possible and use it as preparation for upcoming races and to test myself a little bit, as well as positioning Ben for the final," Froome said.
"All in all I think it was a pretty good day for us, and for me personally I'm feeling better and better as the race goes on.
"Definitely I need more of these sort of stage races but step by step, things are coming together for me."