Giro d'Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli completed a near-perfect Tour de France for Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team when he won the longest stage in Revel on Wednesday.
The 32-year-old Italian outsprinted breakaway companion Kurt-Asle Arvesen of Norway at the end of the 239.5-km stage from Pau to give the six-times champion's team their third stage win of the Tour.
Australian Simon Gerrans took third place and France's Sebastien Hinault was fourth.
Race leader Armstrong, on course for a record seventh Tour victory before he retires, finished in a bunch of riders some 22 minutes later, his overall lead in tact.
Discovery Channel won the team time trial in the fourth stage while George Hincapie won the hardest mountain stage in Pla d'Adet on Sunday and the American outfit also leads the team classification.
"For the last year, everything has been going well for me since I joined Discovery Channel. When we're not leading the Tour for Lance, we always manage to have one guy going for the stage victory," Savoldelli said.
"The more I see Lance, the more I tell myself there is only one like him. He's on another planet."
Armstrong, who leads Italian Ivan Basso by 2:46 overall, has yet to win a stage, a situation he is expected to correct on Saturday in the penultimate stage, a 55.5-km individual time trial.
The wind blowing strongly on the flat, straight roads of south-western France split the bunch and a group of 17 riders moved into the lead, never to be seen again by the main pack, who were happy to relax after the mountains.
The 17 took a maximum lead of 23 minutes over the bunch when eight of the escapees broke clear, 43 km from the finish.
The eight were Savoldelli, Arvesen, Gerrans, Hinault, Spaniard Oscar Sevilla, Dutchman Bram Tankink, Ukraine's Andryi Grivko and Italian Daniele Righi.
Sevilla's presence in the leading group was a relief for Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile team, who lost last year's runner-up Andreas Kloeden with a hand fracture and learnt that Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov had decided to leave next season.
In the final climb, seven kilometres from the finish, Hinault - who is not related to five times champion Bernard Hinault-, attacked and was quickly joined by Savoldelli. They were caught by Gerrans and Arvesen two kilometres from the finish and the stage was set for a final sprint between the four.
Savoldelli was obviously the strongest of the lot and he chased behind Arvesen when the Norwegian surged, to pass him on the line.
Thursday's 189-km 18th stage between Albi and Mende is a hilly one with a steep finishing climb.