Team Sky's Mark Cavendish was runner up to Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini) in a sprint finish to the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia in Vedelago.
The world champion had battled his way through some tough mountain stages to the last sprint stage of the race as he aimed to strengthen his grip on the red points jersey.
And inside the final kilometre he looked to be in pole position as Geraint Thomas led him out but Guardini was tracking him and went a fraction earlier as he surged past on the right-hand side.
The duo then powered towards the line and it was the Italian who prevailed, with Cavendish taking second and Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) in third.
Cavendish, who had earlier won the day's intermediate sprint, had the consolation of extending his lead in the points classification to 29 points from Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), with three stages remaining in the battle for the maglia rossa.
With the field finishing together, Rodríguez remains top of the overall standings, 30 seconds in front of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) and 1:22 ahead of Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale). Team Sky duo Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao are fifth and 10th respectively, with Urán retaining the young rider's jersey.
Show of strength
The stage had seen a superb team display from Team Sky, despite the fact they were down to seven men after the withdrawals of Peter Kennaugh and Jeremy Hunt.
With the finish in Vedelago 929 metres below the start in San Vito di Cadore it was always going to be a fast stage - with an average speed of over 49km/h - and a four-man break of Manuele Boaro (Saxo Bank), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Pierpaolo De Negri (Farnese Vini) and Angelo Pagani (Colnago-CSF) got away early but were never allowed to open up a lead much over three minutes.
That was closed down in eye-catching fashion by Team Sky as the intermediate sprint point approached after 84km at Cesiomaggiore, reeling the break in with a kilometre remaining to tee up Cavendish for the maximum eight-point haul.
A second four-man break then went clear after that point, with Clement again featuring, this time along with Mickaël Delage (FDJ-BigMat), Olivier Kaisen (Lotto-Belisol) and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM).
But with Team Sky's Ian Stannard almost single-handedly driving the peloton, their advantage was capped at a minute and gradually brought back as the closing stages approached.
When it was all back together Stannard and Juan Antonio Flecha continued to drill it on the front before Saxo Bank moved en masse to take over the pacesetting in the closing 3km.
Bernhard Eisel put in another big kick after the flamme rouge before Thomas took over to launch Cavendish for the final sprint.
Afterwards Eisel said: "It was a long straight finish so people from behind always have a nice slipstream and that’s what happened, Guardini did a good sprint.
"But it’s been a good three weeks for far for us; we’ve won three stages and I’m pretty sure we’ll take the white jersey. Cav and I will make it to Milan and we’ll see what happens with the red jersey.
"We've just had some nasty crashes to test us but I think we’re all pretty happy with how it's gone."
And Sports Director Steven de Jongh told us: "We wanted it to come down to a bunch sprint today and that’s what we got. The guys worked really hard with Ian particularly impressive on the front and making sure everything came back together just when we wanted it.
"The boys did a fantastic job to lead Cav out for that intermediate sprint, and then again at the end. He just left it a fraction too late though and was unable to come around Guardini at the finish.
"He’s disappointed about that but is 29 points ahead of Rodriguez now and he can’t do any more than that.
"Sergio and Rigo both came through fine and hopefully benefitted from an easy-ish day in the saddle. Tomorrow they will be giving it their all again and aiming to keep pace with the best climbers in the world on what will be a super-hard day."
Friday's stage is the first of an epic double-header back in the mountains to sort out the general classification, a 198km trek from Treviso to Alpe di Pampeago/Val di Fiemme.