Team Sky's Mark Cavendish sprinted to his fourth victory of the season when landing stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico in thrilling style.
The world champion was led out by Edvald Boasson Hagen at the end of the marathon 230 kilometres stage from San Vincenzo to Indicatore and he then jumped on the wheel of Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) before swooping past to take the win.
Óscar Freire (Katusha) finished fast and late for second, with Farrar holding on for third just ahead of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) in fourth.
It followed up triumphs at the Tour of Qatar (twice) and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and underlines Cavendish's form ahead of Milan-San Remo next weekend, his first big target of 2012. The win also put him in the red points jersey and moved him up to fifth overall.
Strength in numbers
We caught up with Cavendish afterwards for his reaction and he told us: "It was a difficult day on paper but it wasn’t too fast for the guys so there were a lot of fresh legs and it was important for me to have the team around me, keeping me at the front.
"In the last 60ks there was lots of wind, lots of corners and lots of hills so it was important to stay up there and I was never out of the top 15 because I always had strong guys in front of me. Jez [Hunt], Bernie [Eisel] and Mat Hayman did an absolutely incredible job."
Cavendish also highlighted the role of Boasson Hagen at the finish, explaining: "In the final Edvald did 1500 metres in the wind, just keeping me protected. Then with 200 metres to go Farrar hit the front and I was able to sprint to the finish. I’m super, super happy, that was an incredible job by the guys today."
And asked about his preparation for the first monument of the season next Saturday, he added: "With the team we have and the form we're all in it's a big boost to confidence for Milan-San Remo."
Matthew Goss, runner up to Cavendish at the World Championships in Copenhagen, continues to lead the overall standings following his GreenEDGE team's dominant display in the opening time trial.
The stage had earlier seen a two-man break stay clear for much of the day, with Diego Caccia (Farnese Vini) and Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF) given plenty of leeway before they were caught with 24km remaining on the second of two lumpy 33km circuits around Indicatore.
Heading into the closing stages the peloton was split in two by a crash with 1.6km remaining but many of the big-name sprinters were up front by that point and in a frantic finish it was Cavendish's acceleration which won the day.
After the finish Sports Director Servais Knaven was full of praise for the way the team adapted to a difficult finish before delivering Cavendish to the win.
He said: “Everyone is really happy with that. It was an exciting finish and hard to control with some short climbs in the final. There were a few attacks and then the last 3k was descending which meant the pace was really high.
“It was not easy to be in the right position to make a sprint but the guys worked together perfectly and made a great lead-out for Cav.”
The result was made even more impressive due to the fact the riders finished the stage after close to seven hours in the saddle.
Knaven added: “It was 230k today but almost seven hours on the bike so it was a long, long day. It was not flat either so it was not easy for the guys and they will feel tired tonight! But it was a perfect day, everyone did a great job and in the final everyone was doing what they needed to do.
“Tomorrow there’s also chance for another sprint so if we get the opportunity we will go for it again.”