Greg Henderson powered to victory on what proved to be a dramatic first stage of Paris-Nice.
The New Zealander joined a 15-man breakaway with around nine kilometres to go and positioned himself intelligently over the closing stages before powering ahead of Lampre's Grega Bole at the line.
The 201.5 km ride from Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines to Contres proved a hugely-testing one with several of the main contenders losing time on overall leader Lars Boom.
The day had started innocuously enough with Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) breaking free after just four kilometres.
That duo were allowed to build a lead of over six minutes before Rabobank - who were looking after the interests of Boom - moved themselves to the head of the peloton and stepped up the chase.
The weather soon began to play its part however with André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) and Dimitri Champion (AG2R) among a small group who momentarily fell behind the rest of the field.
The day's first real drama came when Danilo Napolitano (Katyusha) crashed inside the final 100km. He wasn't to be the last.
As the crosswinds continued to howl the peloton repeatedly fractured and Feillu and Timmer were eventually reeled in with 50km to go.
Chaos reigned 31km from the line when a group of approximately 30 riders - including Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) - were sent scattering. Fortunately, most of those riders escaped unhurt and were able to rejoin the action quickly.
Several further splits were to come and 15 riders eventually surged clear in the closing stages. The drama behind was far from over though as Alberto Contador (Astana) and Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) also collided inside the final 3km, causing them to lose vital seconds on their GC rivals.
Henderson however, stayed calm and composed and picked his moment perfectly to secure his first stage victory of the season.
Boom's place in that lead group ensured he retained the leader's yellow jersey, and David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) moved up from 11th to third in the overall standings.
Henderson is now sitting sixth, 20 seconds off the pace, but Contador and Leipheimer have both dropped to seventh and eighth respectively and are now trailing Boom by a further five seconds.
Henderson delighted by win
After the race a delighted Henderson told Eurosport: "With around 100 metres to go there was so much action and I made a move to come across to the front.
"As we came into the final straight the headwinds meant it was like a slow-motion sprint, just so hard, and I was lucky enough to get it on the line.
"This result is a credit to the high management of the team who put us riders together - they selected a group of great guys.
"This season we want to come out and prove to people we're not here for show. We're here to race hard and to win bike races.
"We've had a great start to the season and to win here at such a beautiful race is real honour."