Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory on stage 15 of the Tour de France to stamp his authority on the green jersey standings.
The Manxman held on to take his fourth stage win of the race and 19th in total at the Tour after edging out Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) in Montpellier.
The 26-year-old extended his lead in the points classification after taking maximum points at the finish and besting his rivals at the intermediate sprint, bouncing back convincingly from an energy-sapping trip through the Pyrenees.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) tried to spring a surprise on his rivals two kilometres from home but was swept up by a determined lead-out train from Cavendish’s HTC-Highroad squad.
At the finish a thrilled Cavendish said: "I can't let the guys down when they ride like that, they were incredible again.
"They were on the front all day. The first half of the stage we worked with Europcar, who were also riding really strong, and then in the second half we were on our own."
As usual the sprinter was full of praise for his team, adding: "The guys are motorbikes, they're incredible. I thought they might have been a bit tired after waiting for me and pulling like they did yesterday but I think the fact that we got through yestreday's stage like we did made today even more special.
"It was a difficult, technical finish, made even harder by the wind. But we just kept together. They're an amazing group of guys and I'm so, so proud of them."
Despite what looked on paper like a straightforward sprint stage the race’s main contenders were forced to be vigilant due to the constant threat of cross-winds and echelons.
Yet as wind whipped the peloton from different directions nervous teams opted to hold station rather than chance an attack in the blustery conditions, fanning out across the road to better position their leaders.
Thomas Voeckler and his Europcar squad were afforded a relative day off from controlling duties as the Frenchman’s dream Tour continued in the yellow jersey.
HTC-Highroad made life easier for the French squad on the run-in, with Cavendish's team-mate Mark Renshaw admitting: "It was very much a team effort, we've got an extraordinarily strong team here this year.
"Lars Bak and Danny Pate did an amazing amount of work today and without them it wouldn't have been a bunch sprint.
"Everyone loves working for Cav; he's a great character, one of the biggest in the peloton."
For the second day in succession an attack moved clear almost instantly as five men headed up the road as the peloton rolled out of Limoux.
The quintet quickly built up an advantage but were not allowed to gain over four minutes on a day that saw the sprinters’ teams determined to have their say.
HTC-Highroad were quick to put numbers on the front of the bunch to peg back the escapees, the team happy to take up the chase on a stage always likely to be crucial in the fight for the prestigious green jersey.
The wind gave the bunch a scare early on with peloton splitting briefly as the race passed through Carcassonne in a move that saw Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) temporarily distanced.
With 60km to go the BMC and Leopard Trek moved to the head of affairs as predicted in support of Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers respectively.
The breakaway soaked up the big points at the day’s intermediate sprint in Montagnac with Mickael Delage (FDJ) taking 20 points.
Back in the bunch the fight was on 10 points with HTC-Highroad leading out Mark Cavendish who edged out his two rivals Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in the sprint.
Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) surprised no one by attacking their counterparts in the break with 22km to go and linked up well before Terpstra kicked for home.
The Dutchman took advantage of a twisty finish, as did Gilbert who broke clear briefly as the road ramped up in a desperate attempt to score points.
The race now heads into a rest day on Monday before four gruelling stages in the Alps which will likely decide the race.