Mark Cavendish finished a superbly-gutsy second on a tough third stage of the Ster ZLM Toer to open up an eight-second lead at the top of the overall standings.
The world champion chased home Lars Boom (Rabobank) on the uphill finish into La Gileppe at the end of a hilly 187 kilometres route in the Ardennes which always looked like having a key bearing on the general classification.
And on an excellent day for Team Sky, Juan Antonio Flecha was third across the line to move into the same position on the GC, 14 seconds back.
Boom is now Cavendish's closest challenger as Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) both dropped out of the top three after losing touch with the front group.
Cavendish was in the mix throughout though and is also in pole position in the points classification going into Sunday's final stage as the race moves back to the Netherlands.
Saturday's foray into Belgium had seen an impressive show of strength not only from Cavendish but the whole Team Sky squad as they worked hard in the closing stages to reel in what was left of the breakaway group.
Dion Beukeboom (De Rijke), Marco Haller (Katusha), Jaroslaw Marycz (Saxo Bank) and Nélson Oliveira (RadioShack-Nissan) had jumped clear of the pack soon after the start and going up the La Redoute climb of Liege-Bastogne-Liege fame, RadioShack-Nissan pair Jan Bakelants and Ben Hermans joined up with them.
It was Bakelants who proved by far the biggest threat as he still had over a minute on the peloton on the last of the two finishing circuits.
But a huge turn from Ian Stannard proved decisive and he was caught inside the final two kilometres as Boom, Cavendish and Flecha came to the fore.
Stannard underlines strength
It all left Sports Director Steven de Jongh full of praise for the efforts of his team as he told us: "It was an awesome ride by the whole team today, very impressive.
"At La Redoute the two RadioShack guys attacked and they got across really, really fast to the front group.
"The gap went up to four minutes and we had to work really hard; there were guys dropping off the back all the time as the pace was so strong.
"We had a little bit of help from Rabobank but on the last lap they still had 1:05 to make up.
"But Yogi [Stannard] pulled on the front for one whole lap so that Flecha could do a really good turn. It was a really epic ride by the whole team and everyone worked incredibly hard.
"It was a tough, tough finish but the guys did great and Mark now has eight seconds in hand of Boom going into what's a pan-flat final stage so that's a good position to be in."