Greg van Avermaet of BMC Racing has won Stage 13 of the Tour de France in Rodez, beating Tinkoff-Saxo's Peter Sagan to the line on a day when the last three survivors of the break were caught with the line almost in sight.
Jan Bakelants of AG2R-La Mondiale finished third, while Team Sky's Chris Froome was the sixth rider across the finish line and retains his overall lead.
Coming under the flamme rouge to signify the start of the final kilometre of the day's 198.5 kilometre stage from Muret, the trio in front - Wilco Keldermann of LottoNL-Jumbo, Europcar's Cyril Gauthier, and Thomas de Gendt of Lotto-Soudal - had an advantage of just under 10 seconds on the chasing peloton, but it wouldn't be enough.
On a tough finish, it was van Avermaet, so often the nearly man in major races - he was third in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix this year, the latest in a succession of close misses on the big occasion - who came to the fore to clinch the first Tour de France stage win of his career.
By finishing second, Sagan ensures another day in the green jersey of points classification leader, having been overhauled midway through today's stage by Lotto-Soudal's Andre Greipel, who edged ahead of him at the intermediate sprint to become virtual leader by just one second.
BMC Racing’s Greg van Avermaet on finally getting that big win
This victory means a lot to me. It's a big one. Finally I've made it after missing out on several occasions, especially at the classics. I came to the Tour to win a stage. I targeted the first week. Then I survived the Pyrenees with today's stage in mind and I've succeeded.
At 200 metres to go, I felt someone was on my wheel but I didn't know who it was. When I realised it was Peter Sagan, I was hoping that he wouldn't come around me. The last 100 metres was very long but I'm happy that I stayed away.
I certainly don't have any advice for Sagan as I have the same problems as him. It's difficult to win at this level. The only advice is to keep trying. Sagan remains one of the hardest riders to beat. I have a big respect for him. It's nice for cycling to have a rider like him.
I'm maybe not the guy who wins 20 races a year but I'm always aiming at six or seven victories every season. I'm at four this year and there's still a long season ahead. I could have done better. The classics will always be my number one goal. The level of my win today will give me the confidence I need for the future.
Race leader Chris Froome of Team Sky
It could have been an easier day but it was a mad dash in the last 40km as sprinters' teams panicked when they realised they might not catch the breakaway. I've seen very tired legs in the bunch, given the last three stages we've just done.
Many people were hoping for an easy day but it didn't happen. The heat was close to 40°. We were asking for bidons and there wasn't enough. In a day like this, I'd like to feel safe at the 3km to go mark and then give way to the sprinters but in the finale, everyone wanted to be at the front: lead out men for their sprinter, team-mates of GC riders, then it was chaos at the bottom of the final climb. All you need is one GC guy to go to the front and everyone has to go up there as well.
Typical sprinters want more opportunities but I don't have any complain about the route. Seeing that even today some riders have tried to attack me in a short climb like this, it means they'll try more tomorrow. Mende [where tomorrow’s stage finishes] is a 3-km climb where big gaps can be expected. Hopefully I'll get through without any major problem.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.