Race leader Fabian Cancellara won the third stage of the Tour de France with an audacious late break in Compiegne.
Cancellara stretched his overall lead to 33 seconds
After a slow day in the saddle on the Tour's longest stage, the peloton wound up the pace and swallowed up four escapees just 500m from the finish.
But with the sprinters jostling for position, Cancellara caught everyone by surprise and jumped off the front.
Stephane Auge took the day's climbing points to claim the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey off David Millar.
Auge and Frederik Willems bridged the gap to early escapees Nicolas Vogondy and Matthieu Ladagnouss with 42km of the day's 236km remaining.
Frenchman Auge was intent on claiming the points over the Cote de Blerancourt and duly did to take top spot in the King of the Mountains rankings from Briton Millar.
And as the kilometres clicked down to Compiegne it looked increasingly likely that one of the quartet would take the day's overall spoils.
But the peloton cranked up the speed in the final 20km and slowly but surely reeled in the lead group.
He pulled a rabbit out of the hat there! I've never seen anything like that in my 11 Tours
Stuart O'Grady on Cancellara
And when they were within sight on the final straight Cancellara raced off the front and used his time-trialling strength to hold a horde of pursuing sprinters at bay.
"This was a really long stage, and the four riders at the front were working well," he said.
"I was asking myself, should I hang on for a sprint? I escaped the peloton over the cobblestones.
"To win in this way, at Compiegne where the Paris-Roubaix begins, is perfect - there's no other word to describe it."
The stage finished an hour behind schedule after the riders spent most of the day cycling into a headwind and Cancellara added: "The wind was stopping the whole peloton and it's hard to ride 240km with the wind in your face.
"That's one of the reasons that the whole peloton chose to ride slower because we are not machines, we are humans, but now I'm the winner I've got nothing to complain about. I'm very happy.
"But a finish like that is exactly what cycling is all about and I have worked really hard to be in this position, having now gained two victories in four days."
Australian Stuart O'Grady commented: "He pulled a rabbit out of the hat there! I've never seen anything like that in my 11 Tours.
"We tried to get the chase going earlier, but in a day when everyone's riding along so slow for so long, everyone's hurting, nobody wants to waste any energy and there's bluffing between the other guys.
"In the end it comes down to seconds."
Cancellara's time bonus for victory means he has gained more valuable seconds over the rest of the field and the Swiss Team CSC rider has increased his overall lead over Andreas Kloden from 13 seconds to 33 seconds.
And while Millar may have lost the polka dot jersey, he remains third in the general classification, 41 seconds off top spot.
Belgian Tom Boonen finished fourth to extend his advantage over Robbie McEwen in the race for the green points jersey.
Stage three result:
Waregem - Compiegne, 236km
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 6 hrs 36 mins 15 secs
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram @ 0 secs
3 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre @ 0 secs
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step @ 0 secs
5 Robert Hunter (SA) Barloworld @ 0 secs
6 Robert Foerster (Ger) Gerolsteiner @ 0 secs
7 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Predictor-Lotto @ 0 secs
8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) T-Mobile @ 0 secs
9 Mark Cavendish (GB) T-Mobile @ 0 secs
10 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner @ 0 secs
43 Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld @ 0 secs
105 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval @ 0 secs
125 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Cofidis @ 0 secs
145 Charlie Wegelius (GB) Liquigas @ 0 secs
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 15 hrs 12 mins 8 secs
2 Andreas Kloeden (Ger) Astana @ 33 secs
3 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval @ 41 secs
4 George Hincapie (US) Discovery Channel @ 43 secs
5 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Cofidis @ 43 secs
6 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel @ 45 secs
7 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step @ 46 secs
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne @ 46 secs
9 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole @ 49 secs
10 Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel @ 49 secs
45 Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld @ 1 min 7 secs
88 Charlie Wegelius (GB) Liquigas @ 1 min 16 secs
182 Mark Cavendish (GB) T-Mobile @ 3 mins 57 secs