Spaniard Oscar Freire of the Rabobank team dominated some of the world's fastest sprinters to win the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday.
After 169.5km of racing from Bordeaux, Serguei Gonchar of the T-Mobile team retained the race leader's yellow jersey ahead of the first climbing stage of the race, a 190.5km ride from Cambo-Les-Bains to Pau.
Gonchar, the first Ukrainian to wear the coveted yellow jersey, holds a one-minute lead over American Floyd Landis of Phonak, with his T-Mobile teammate Michael Rogers of Australia third at 1:08.
Freire, meanwhile, now has three career stage wins on the race following his victory in the fifth stage at Caen and his maiden win in 2002.
The Spaniard kept his cool in the long home straight to surge past Belgian world champion Tom Boonen and Erik Zabel before holding off a resurgent Robbie McEwen by a matter of centimeters at the finish.
Boonen, who has yet to win a stage on this year's race, finished fourth behind Germany's Zabel.
Freire said his recipe for success was simple: "No matter what kind of sprint you are in, you have to be at the front if you want to win."
"I managed to get in a good position, and that helped me a lot. But I wouldn't have got there without the help of [teammate] Juan Antonio Flecha. You don't see on television how much work riders like that do for the sprinters, so I want to dedicate this win to him," he said.
With yesterday's first climbing stage set to begin the process of identifying genuine yellow jersey hopefuls, the peloton was delighted the organizers had decided to squeeze in a flat stage after Monday's rest day.
The sprinters teams in particular had this stage in their sights, and closed in on an early breakaway, composed of Christian Knees, Stephane Auge and Walter Beneteau, in the final 5km.
In the home straight the Credit Agricole team of Norwegian Thor Hushovd dropped back as Quick Step's Boonen and Milram sprinter Zabel pulled slightly ahead of the bunch.
However both sprinters appeared to peak too early and Freire kept watch patiently until making his move in the final 30m.
Davitamon sprinter McEwen, who has won three stages in the race so far, made a stunning maneuver, pulling wildly out to his left and powering ahead to miss victory by the breadth of a wheel rim.
He almost clashed with Freire, but in the end he gave the Spaniard a friendly pat on the back.
Boonen meanwhile was left without a win yet again, and with the ignominy of 36-year-old Zabel, 11 years his senior, beating him to third place.
However, the Belgian said: "I'm happy with my sprint and accept the defeat although I perhaps sprinted a bit too early."
Zabel meanwhile could not hide his joy after coming so close to claiming his first win in the race since 2002.
"It was just like the good old days," the delighted German said.
"I haven't been so close to victory this year, and even last year I think. It's a great performance for me and shows that I can just about compete with all the fast guys there like Freire and McEwen," Zabel said.
For a moment, Zabel thought he had secured the victory.
"When I passed Boonen I thought I had a chance to win it. That was until I saw Freire and McEwen coming past me just before the finish line," he said.