Belgium's Tom Boonen produced a formidable show of strength to win the 181.5 kms second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.
The best one-day classic rider in the world surged a hundred meters from the finish line to outsprint Norway's Thor Hushovd and Australian Robbie McEwen for his third Tour de France stage victory.
The Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders winner confirmed without the shadow of a doubt he would be the man to beat in mass sprint finishes on this Tour.
The 24-year-old Belgian, winner of two stages last year, has made it his goal to win the Tour's points classification green jersey this year.
He took the jersey away from six-times Tour champion Lance Armstrong, who had worn it all day after taking second place in Saturday's 19 kms time trial.
"For me, the Tour started today and I really wanted to win a stage because, after next Sunday, there will not be that many chances for sprinters to win stages and the man in the green jersey might take it to Paris," Boonen said.
Armstrong finished in the main bunch with overall leader David Zabriskie, who retained his yellow jersey and enjoyed a rather relaxed day.
"My [CSC] team mates kept me near the front but it was very nervous near the end," Zabriskie said.
McEwen, winner of the green jersey in 2004, was the first into action 400 meters from the line but the Australian could not resist Boonen's charge and was also narrowly beaten by Hushovd on the line.
In the absence of Germany's Erik Zabel and Italian Alessandro Petacchi, the sprinters hierarchy on this Tour was uncertain and this first sprint finish made it clear who was the strongest.
The stage was animated by early breakaway from four riders, who stayed in front for more than 150 kms before being caught six kilometers from the finish.
Two of the breakaway group had good reason to try their luck. Hungary's Laszlo Bodrogi, 59 seconds behind Zabriskie after Saturday, had a good chance of seizing the overall lead, while Frenchman Thomas Voeckler lives near the stage finish in Les Essarts.
Bodrogi was virtual leader at halfway stage when the group, also comprising of Spaniard David Canada and France's Sylvain Calzati, held a lead of 4:15.
Voeckler took the best climber's polka-dot jersey.
Monday's third stage takes the riders from La Chataigneraie to Tours over 212.5 kms of flat land.