Team Sky kept upright on the final sprinters' stage at the Eneco Tour to keep their GC hopes alive.
For the third consecutive day the race came down to a bunch kick, Luke Rowe the first Team Sky rider across the line in 15th while the rest of the team looked towards the bigger picture of the general classification.
Giacomo Nizzolo came out on top on the day, the young Italian (RadioShack-Nissan) hitting out early in the sprint and fending off a late charge from Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) by little over an inch at the stripe in Aalter.
Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale) rounded out the podium just behind after a third consecutive bunch kick which saw the peloton lined out following a tight right-hander inside 500 metres to go.
Tom Boonen stayed cool in a hectic finish to maintain his one-second lead at the top of the standings, the Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider fifth across the line to narrowly miss out on more bonus seconds.
Every second was crucial ahead of Saturday’s time trial which should see the general classification shaken up once again.
Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana), Sjef De Wilde (Accent.Jobs) and Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen), the leader of the combativity competition, struck out early on to make the day’s break.
With 25km to go the trio were reeled in and a fight broke out ahead of the final intermediate sprint across the finish line in Aalter. Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) jumped clear to take three seconds on behalf of team-mate Boonen, the Belgian instead opting instead to save his energy.
Sprint trains formed in the final 10km as the pace increased further, stage three winner Theo Bos (Rabobank) going down following a touch of wheels to take him out of the equation for the finish.
Roundabouts caused havoc on the run to the line as some riders took the long way around, others a shortcut but it was all back together for the finish as Nizzolo held firm.
Speaking after stage five Sports Director Steven de Jongh said: “It was good to see Luke get up there at the finish after his hand problems. He is still in pain but he gave it a good go. Hopefully the pain will improve once again tomorrow for the time trial. There was a crash in the final k which caused all the splits so there were no time gaps at the finish.
“Tomorrow is obviously an important day for Christian and Alex with the TT. Alex says he feels good so we will see how the guys get on.”