Max Stedman slugged it out with the world’s best as Julian Alaphilippe won stage three of the Tour of Britain in Bristol.
The Canyon Eisberg climber gave his general classification hopes a major boost as he claimed a 16th-place finish in another brutal finale.
BMC’s Patrick Bevin was second on the line, catapulting him into the leader’s jersey after the short and sharp 128km battle.
Stedman’s result saw him rise one place to 22nd in the overall standings – 49 seconds down on the New Zealander.
A breathless start to stage three was expected. And that is exactly what unfolded as attack after attack tried and failed to snap the elastic.
Canyon Eisberg trio Rory Townsend, Alex Paton and Dexter Gardias were all on the offensive in the relentless skirmishing of the opening 40km.
Team Katusha-ALPECIN’s Mads Würtz Schmidt won the first intermediate sprint in Yatton, with Townsend just failing to add to his tally as he rolled over in fifth.
Brit James Shaw, of Lotto Soudal, then crested the category four Shipham climb as the digs continued to come thick and fast.
The category two ascent of Cheddar Gorge was expected to put the hurt on the peloton and so it proved – with riders quickly distanced amid the constant attacking.
Sylvain Chavanel, of Direct Energie, then drove away to take the KOM points but still no-one was let off the leash.
The peloton had the best part of 50km in its legs before a breakaway finally looked likely to stick and it was a four-man move inspired by stage one winner Andre Greipel.
The German sprinter, from Lotto Soudal, was joined by Pascal Eenkhoorn, of LottoNL Jumbo, Madison Genesis rider Matt Holmes and Direct Energie’s Romain Cardis.
That group swelled to six when Iljo Keisse, of Quick-Step Floors, and Movistar’s Ruben Fernandez bridged the gap.
And soon afterwards, aggressive Katusha-ALPECIN stagiaire Dmitry Strakhov jumped across to make seven at the head of affairs.
But Team Sky were not happy as they sought to protect the general classification ambitions of Wout Poels.
And after Eenkhoorn had won the intermediate sprint in Midsomer Norton, it was all back together again.
Only 61km remained now and after a brief dig from Alex Dowsett, his Katusha-ALPECIN team-mate Tony Martin rode off the pointy end.
Having dangled out front for the best part of 10km, the German multiple time trial world champion was joined by three companions.
Ben Swift, of Great Britain, JLT Condor’s Jon Mould and Angelo Tulik, from Direct Energie, completed the quartet which quickly gained a minute on the field.
Mould took the intermediate sprint at Bishop Sutton but the escapees only held a 40-second lead with 30km remaining.
All signs pointed to a showdown between the general classification contenders as the race headed back towards Bristol.
The breakaway was reeled in just seconds before the peloton hit the final categorised climb of the day – the 1km category one Providence Lane.
Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria hit out first, followed by Team Wiggins’ Tom Pidcock, who took maximum points at the summit.
The world under-23 time trial champion’s attack succeeded in stringing the peloton out on the descent.
Around 40 riders, including Stedman, cruised into the final 4km together with the World Tour heavyweights massing at the front ready to slug it out.
In the end, a superb lead-out from Bob Jungels delivered Alaphilippe to the lead ahead of Bevin and Emils Liepins, of ONE Pro Cycling.
Stedman was comfortably in the front group, finishing strongly in 16th alongside Team Sky contender Poels.
Ryan Christensen crossed the line 1min 2sec down, with Andrew Tennant, Paton, Townsend and Gardias in a large grupetto 5.36 adrift.
Matthew Teggart, of Team Wiggins, held on to his Eisberg sprints jersey, while Dimenson Data’s Scott Davies retained his lead in the Skoda mountains classification. Click here for the full result.