Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) snatched Paris-Nice stage five victory, outsprinting Bryan Coquard (Team Europcar) after breakaway rider Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) was caught inside the final kilometre.
De Gendt, in the polka dot jersey, had been out all day, but did not have the legs to complete a shock victory as the sprinters swallowed him up on the final bend.
Coquard led the sprint out, but Cimolai – the Trofeo Laigueglia winner last month – proved too strong, coming from behind to take victory with stage three winner Michael Matthews third.
Despite the gruelling end to stage four, plenty of riders looked to steal a march on the peloton early on – De Gendt, for the second day running, instigating the break which eventually went clear.
It was certainly a threatening move, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and Romain Sicard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) also going clear – both having started the day within three minutes of yellow jersey Kwiatkowski.
Egor Silin (Katusha) and Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo) bridged to join the leaders, with De Gendt extending his polka dot jersey lead on the day’s climbs.
Etixx-QuickStep, Trek Factory Racing and Team Sky were among the teams to line out at the front of the bunch in response – proving a smart tactic when a pinch in the road caused several riders to crash, with gaps temporarily forming as a result.
The break’s lead was down to just 35 seconds as they crested the day’s final climb, the Cote de Buisson, but De Gendt drove the pace to keep the move going for as long as possible.
Sicard and Poljanski were distanced on the climb, while Talansky was dropped with four kilometres to go.
In the bunch, Orica-GreenEDGE came to the front but De Gendt’s pace meant there was still 30 seconds between him and Silin and the peloton at the 3km to go mark.
Giant-Alpecin and Team Sky also contributed to the chase, while Kwiatkowski latched onto the GreenEDGE train in a bid to stay safely at the front.
De Gendt put in a final dig under the flamme rouge as the sprint trains formed behind but his efforts fell just short as Coquard opened his sprint out early.
Cimolai pipped the Frenchman on the line, however, to claim his second victory of the season.
Further back, British ace Dan McLay (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) bagged a great eighth place to prove his potential, while Kwiatkowski stayed in yellow.
Paris-Nice 2015: stage five – result
1) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – 4.12.09hrs
2) Bryan Coquard (FRA) –Europcar – ST
3) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
4) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – Cofidis
5) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
6) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
7) Matti Breschel (DEN) – Tinkoff-Saxo
8) Dan McLay (GBR) – Bretagne-Seche Environnement
9) Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling
1) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Etixx-QuickStep – 23.56.20hrs
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +1”
3) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +3”
4) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +27”
5) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +32”
6) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Soudal +38”
7) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +41”
8) Gorka Izagirre (ESP) – Movistar +44”
9) Thiago Machado (POR) – Katusha +50”
10) Rafal Valls (ESP) – Lampre-Merida +51”