Team Sky battled valiantly to try and haul back a late breakaway at Gent-Wevelgem, but it was HTC-Columbia rider Bernhard Eisel who emerged from the lead group victorious after outsprinting Sep Vanmarke and Philippe Gilbert at the finish line.
Greg Henderson and Mathew Hayman both finished in the chase pack but were unable to make their mark on the race after nine riders had moved clear in the final 50km and maintained their advantage into the closing stages.
Eisel let BMC's George Hincapie lead out the sprint before passing the American on the closing straight and holding on doggedly for his first victory of the season.
The riders had set out from Deinze in overcast conditions and a four-man lead group including Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen), Angel Madrazo (Caisse d'Epargne), Tom Van den Haute (Landbouwkrediet) and Matthé Pronk (Vacansoleil) brought the race to life soon after the roll out.
The peloton seemed happy enough to let that quartet stay out front as they made their way along the narrow Belgian roads, but it was Team Sky that eventually took responsibility after Van den Haute had been dropped just over 100km into the day.
Lars Bak (HTC-Columbia) jumped free to join the lead trio as they made their way onto the iconic Kemmelberg for the first time, but their lead was soon hauled back by a 20-strong chase group in which Garmin and Liquigas were well represented.
The rest of the peloton saw the danger that situation posed and Team Sky worked hard again to bring the bunch back together with around 47km to go. Attacks continued off the front and nine riders eventually made the decisive break on the second ascent of the Kemmelberg.
Matti Breschel had been instrumental in getting that group away but it was not to be the Saxo Bank rider's day as he punctured 15km from the finish. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Maxim Iglinskyi (Astana) also dropped off the pace as the race reached its conclusion, leaving six riders to battle it out on the streets of Wevelgem.
Sep Vanmarke was the first to make his bid for victory with around 3km to go, but the Topsport-Vlaanderen rider quickly ran out of gas and the rest of the group continued to play cat and mouse until the closing straight.
Hincapie was next to go but his attack came too early and Eisel was perfectly placed to emerge from his shadow with around 200m to go before holding on to take the victory.
Hayman rues missed chance
After the race Hayman was disappointed not to have been in the hunt at the end as he had been hoping to make amends for just missing the podium in the same race last year.
"I put pressure on myself today," Hayman explained. "I was feeling good on the first time up the Kemmelberg and then Liquigas strung it out on the road. I ended up in the second group on the descent and because of that had to help chase the lead group back for another 20km. My day changed in the space of 5km, and that was hard for the morale.
"I skipped the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke to be ready for this race, but I think the rest of the team that had ridden on Saturday had a lot of sore legs. It is a bit of a shame, but we had to make those choices. Today we faced many teams who didn't race yesterday, or ones who put a lot of fresh riders in today."
Hayman will be working in support of Juan Antonio Flecha at next month'sTour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and insists he will have put this disappointment to the back of his mind by the time those races come around.
"[Juan Antonio] Flecha is going great and did really well on Saturday. Despite being a bit down today, I still feel in good condition and I am ready to work for him at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"At those races I will be back doing what I normally do, and maybe that is a role that suits me best."