Lars Boom took the overall victory at the Eneco Tour despite being pipped for the stage win by Alessandro Ballan on the final day of action.
The duo had escaped the clutches of a sizable lead bunch 6km from home and amassed an unassailable lead as they approached the third and final ascent of the infamous Muur of Geraardsbergen.
Rabobank rider Boom led them up the iconic cobbled climb but Ballan (BMC) sprung from his wheel in the final 200m and battled on to take his victory by a two-second margin.
Boom looked more than happy with his second-placed finish though, as it meant the Dutchman topped the general classification with a 26-second advantage over Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step). Overnight leader Svein Tuft (Orica GreenEdge) was a further 14 seconds back in third, with Christian Knees the highest-placed rider for Team Sky in 15th.
The final stage had always looked like being decisive, and so it proved. Nine riders went clear early on but their days were numbered on the first ascent of the Muur after Saxo Bank had set a blistering pace on the front of the chase group.
Indeed, only 40-or-so riders remained as they crested the summit, and then it was time for Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack) to try their hands off the front. Bakelandts fared the best of that duo and put up a dogged fight before being hauled back on the Denderoordberg, 6km from home.
With the front group back together, Ballan then picked his moment perfectly to fly off the front, with Boom’s response ultimately winning the race.
Immediately after the race, Boom told reporters: “It was a really hard stage. I was four seconds behind Tuft at the start of the day and Chavanel was not far behind me, so it was always going to be difficult because they are both strong riders.
“Chavanel also had Terpstra and Boonen on his team so I was a little afraid going into those final stages, but I attacked behind Ballan and we went together to the finish.
“The Muur is a very special climb so I am really happy to win here.”
Ballan said of his stage win: “I’m very happy. My legs were good and I just had to wait until those last kilometres. Today was particularly hard. We did a lot of work on the front to control the race but we knew it would come down to those ascents of the Muur.
“To win the stage is really pleasing and I want to keep building my form for the World Championships.”