Marco Marcato held his nerve to win the three-man sprint and take a prestigious victory at Paris-Tours.
The Italian (Vacansoleil-DCM) timed his kick well to come around fellow escapee Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and had enough left in the tank to hold off Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen) on the line in Tours.
The three riders had been part of a plucky eight-man move which went clear with 22 kilometres remaining, no team in the peloton possessing enough numbers to chase the group down over narrow, undulating roads.
High on the list of pre-race favourites, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) came tantalisingly close to bridging across to the trio on the Avenue de Grammont but had to settle for fourth after a successful season.
As expected the late-season spectacle produced an attacking finish, the sprinters again forced to take a back seat in one of the most difficult races of the season to predict.
With 235.5km on the menu 11 riders made up the initial move of the day as the final classic of the season rolled out of Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais.
With dangerous riders such as Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) up the road the gap was only allowed to hit the four-minute mark before the peloton set about bringing the race back together.
A fast average speed and a chase led by BMC Racing and Cofidis saw the race plummet south towards Tours for an earlier-than-expected finish.
With 60km to go Team Sky also chipped in with the workload, the breakaway ahead fracturing down to seven before it was left to Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) to hold off the peloton solo.
In the end it was with 22km to go that the motivated group of eight fired clear on the narrow roads, BMC taking up the chase one again behind. A crash towards the front of a bunch on a tight right-hander temporarily split up the pack, with the plucky escapees holding a gap of 15 seconds heading into the final 10km.
Despite the best efforts of Degenkolb there was no catching the trio, Marcato holding on to take the biggest win of his career in the sprint despite the remonstrations of De Vreese.