Marcel Kittel of Etixx-Quick Step has won Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de France, holding off a storming finish by Direct Energie's Bryan Coquard as the pair went shoulder to shoulder in a sprint in Limoges that was even closer than yesterday's in Angers.
Race leader Peter Sagan of Tinkoff finished third to pick up a further four bonus seconds, but Dimension Data's Mark Cavendish, seeking his third stage of this year's race, was unable to find a way through the traffic and came home eighth.
With Sagan getting the better of his rival at the intermediate sprint today, he moves back above the Manxman at the head of the points classification, although given the Slovak keeps the yellow jersey, Cavendish will remain in green again tomorrow.
In his debut in the race, Fortuneo-Vital Concept's British sprinter, Dan McLay, got his third top-ten finish in four days and his highest placing yet as he took seventh place.
Oliver Naesen of IAM Cycling and Trek-Segafredo's Markel Irizar, the final members of the day's break, were swept up with just 7km remaining of the stage from Saumur, at 237.5km the longest of this year's race.
They had got away early on with Alexis Gougerard of AG2R-La Mondiale and Bora-Argon 18's Andreas Schillinger, and with the quartet working well together, today's stage was ridden at a far quicker pace than yesterday's Stage 3.
With teams including Lotto-Soudal, Orica-GreenEdge and Tinkoff setting a ferocious speed once the escapees had been swept up, a crash was narrowly averted with 3.5km to go as riders towards the rear of the peloton ahead of what proved to be a frantic dash to the line and the closest of finishes.
Kittel said: "My physio told me I had won. I felt super proud and so happy. After missing out on the Tour last year, changing teams… the expectations were very high.
"We came with the goal to win on the 1st stage but we missed out on the yellow jersey. We were disappointed but the team remained focused. I felt the pressure, that also explains the emotion."
Beaten rival Coquard was evidently downcast at his narrow defeat, but optimistic he will have other opportunities to win a stage this year.
"I'm very disappointed but I must not give up," he reflected. "There are still lots of chances left. I'm glad that we took things into our own hands.
"I think I belong with the greats now. There is no mistake in the sprints, the stronger wins. I was never as close to victory but I haven't won yet.
"I'm young but I'm a winner. I have temperament and I want to win this year on the Tour."
Here's on-board footage from the stage.
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.