Mark Cavendish finally broke the jinx that had denied him a stage win in the Tour de France for almost two years with a beautifully timed ride into Fougeres on Friday afternoon.
With 10km remaining in a 190km predominantly flat run through Brittany from Livarot, the last two riders of an early break were swallowed back into the peloton.
All the main sprint teams were lined-up at the head of the huge field and it was obvious it would come down to a mass-sprint to the line.
With Tony Martin crashing out in the final seconds of the previous day’s stage and out of the Tour he was leading with a broken collarbone, the pressure was on Cavendish even more to produce the goods for Etixx Quick-Step.
But if he was under pressure he didn’t show it. Once again, points jersey holder Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) looked powerful on the slight uphill sprint to the line with 200 metres to go.
Cavendish was slightly boxed in, backing off for a few seconds before unleashing his legs to go up the right-hand side of Greipel 70 metres from the line as the German began to tire.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) again started his sprint too late and a joyous Cavendish took the victory by almost a complete bike’s length.
‘I was in my room with my wife and daughter last night and I felt quite relaxed about today. I knew it was OK.
‘Despite losing Tony, the team was still motivated and, after two or three near-misses earlier in the week, they kept their faith.
‘I had to leave my sprint late. Andre went early and had to back off at the end as he had tired legs. I was shoulder to shoulder with Sagan, but I wanted it so badly.’
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) was fourth and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) fifth in a sprint royale between the fastest men in the Tour.
Peter Kennaugh’s Team Sky once again took control of the overall race with Chris Froome going into a five-second overall lead in yellow.
Stage eight, a 181km route from Rennes to Mur-de-Bretagne, has a tough uphill finish. Realistically, only two stages remain for the out-and-out sprinters like Cavendish, including the final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 26.