Christian Knees made the break on a tough stage five at the Tour of Britain to move into the top five overall.
The German proved his strength as he fought his way into an elite 27-man move in the latter third of the stage as the race blew to pieces on the tough, undulating roads around Staffordshire.
The end result saw the German move up to fifth overall with three stages remaining, 24 seconds off the race lead following a tough day in the saddle.
Up ahead it was Marc De Maar who escaped to victory, the national champion of Curacao (UnitedHealthcare) putting in the most impressive of a number of late attacks, pushing on from his fellow escapees with six kilometres to go.
The win was made all the more impressive with De Maar having only just picked himself up off the ground following a crash on the run-in to Stoke-on-Trent.
Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) won the sprint from the bunch 15 seconds later to take second, while former race leader Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) took third to narrow his deficit to the race leader.
That honour went to Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE), the Australian taking sixth on the line but moving back into the race lead by a slender margin.
Mark Cavendish had begun the day in the IG Markets gold jersey with an advantage of six seconds, but soon found himself tailed off on the toughest test of the race thus far.
After the stage Sports Director Servais Knaven looked back at a tough day and summed things up.
“It was a tough stage," he admitted. "It was windy and some really hard terrain. Christian did a really good ride which was good to see. He didn’t have his best day today he said but he was still up there for the GC.
“We hoped for a bit more today but it’s been a hard race up to this point and a hard season. Luke was in the front group but dropped off in the cross-winds when everybody went for it. From that point on it was not possible to come back.”
Knaven also explained the decision which saw Bradley Wiggins wait for Cavendish during the stage, adding: “At that moment it was the point of no return. Brad was in between the two groups waiting for Cav and the gap looked shorter than it was. Brad wanted to help us defend the jersey today and did everything he could to help Cav.
“The team has done a great job during the first four days to control the race and you feel that. There’s three more days to go and everyone is motivated to add to what we’ve already achieved at this race.”
The peloton visited Stoke for the fifth straight year with a 147km loop on the menu over lumpy terrain surrounding the Potteries.
Under brighter skies than the two previous days, the break took a while to stick as the race headed out of the city via the Italian Gardens.
The peloton were all together as the riders arrived at the first bonus sprint of the day, Howard taking three seconds with the win to cut his advantage to Cavendish. Luke Rowe (Team Sky) took second to also move himself closer to the overall lead.
Eventually the combination of Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Bartosz Huzarski (Team NetApp) and Bernard Sulzberger (Raleigh) made a move stick, the gap opening out to over two minutes but not much further.
Team Sky controlled things during the day, yet with both of his counterparts eventually dropping away from the breakaway on the undulating terrain it was left to Basso to attack the final 50km of the race solo.
As Basso kicked on the peloton behind began to shatter, the race blowing to pieces and sending Cavendish out the back of the bunch. Bradley Wiggins opted to drop out the lead group to wait for the world champion.
A select group of 27 riders going went clear on the exposed, rolling terrain on the approach to the final categorised climb of the day. The first-category Gun Hill saw Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) come to the fore, cresting the climb first and staying away briefly before being reeled back in.
With 15km remaining, and a gap of over five minutes to what was left of the peloton, a number of accelerations fired out of the lead group in a bid to further split the race, De Maar making it stick to take the biggest win of his career.