Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) sprinted to victory on stage five of the Tour of Beijing as Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) sealed overall victory.
A chaotic sprint, with the day’s break only being swept up in the final 500 metres, saw Modolo just hold on to take the win from Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) to finish the year on a high.
And despite the threat of bonus seconds impacting on the overall standings, Gilbert enjoyed a relatively trouble-free day to hold his three-second advantage and win the final red jersey.
It took some time for a break to go clear, with Tosh van der Sande (Lotto-Belisol) and Laurent Mangel (FDJ.fr) eventually building a small advantage.
Mangel’s attack, in his final day as a professional, was reminiscent of Marco Pinotti and Juan Antonio Flecha’s swansong 12 months earlier.
And by working well together, the duo quickly extended their advantage to two minutes – though when Mangel revealed a sign for his daughter for the television cameras it was clear they did not expect to stay out front.
With just two men up the road, it meant a bonus second available in the bunch but with the final destination of the points jersey also still to be decided it was not just the GC men with an interest in the intermediate sprints.
Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Giant-Shimano) kicked to deny Luka Mezgec’s rivals any points from the bunch at the first sprint.
Apart from the flurry of action there, however, a slow pace was set by the peloton and the lead of the two on the front – with Giant-Shimano leading the chase – saw the advantage of the two escapees stretch to more than three minutes.
The next intermediate sprint brought with it another flurry of attacks, however, instigated by Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) as he shot off the front of the bunch.
Determined to consolidate his top-ten spot overall, Serry built a few lengths’ lead but was brought back before the line and Janse van Rensburg was again the man to take the final bonus second.
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) were the GC men foiled on this occasion before they returned to the belly of the pack.
Garmin-Sharp hit the front as the kilometres ticked down, but the two escapees still boasted a strong lead as they started the penultimate lap.
With van der Sande and Mangel working well together, and the slow earlier pace allowing them to have remained fresh, their gap did not come down as quickly as the peloton would have liked.
Garmin-Sharp and Giant-Shimano traded pulls on the front, while Belkin and Trek also brought men forward, but the advantage continued to hold as the final lap approached.
Van der Sande and Mangel traded big turns in the break, taking the bell with an advantage which still stood at a menacing 1’16”.
Determination was certainly not in short supply for the two leaders – Mangel bidding for a final farewell and van der Sande, as yet without a 2015 contract, bidding to showcase his ability.
Pablo Lastras (Movistar) took over the pacing, with Sky and Belkin also keeping men on the front – Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) having swung off after a big shift.
Philip Deignan (Team Sky) was next to take a turn on the front, with team-mate Ian Boswell following in his wheels.
The two leaders headed towards the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the final time with the peloton still furiously upping the pace into the final four kilometres.
The pace, unfortunately, saw Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) hit the deck – the young Brit denied a best ever WorldTour finish in his final race of a fine debut year as a result.
Yates’ sit down did little to disrupt to the pace of the peloton however, as Lampre-Merida and BMC Racing, with leader Gilbert in tow, moved forward.
A rampaging bunch had brought the gap down to 22 seconds as they hit the final straight and it was down further but the time they reached the flamme rouge.
With the two leaders finally caught, the fight for position began in the bunch, Belkin launching their sprint first for Moreno Hofland.
Modolo found his wheel, however, passing him in sight of the line and throwing his arms up – doing just enough to snatch the stage win as Boasson Hagen burst through on the rails.
The Norwegian missed out by less than a wheel’s length, with Greg Henderson – who also threw late for the line – splitting the two.
In terms of the jerseys, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) claimed two places on Mezgec, and with it the green jersey.
Gilbert, meanwhile, was safely in the bunch to celebrate his first career WorldTour stage race win and receive the title of final ever Tour of Beijing winner.
Tour of Beijing 2014: stage five – result
1) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – 2.40.10hrs
2) Greg Henderson (NZL) – Lotto-Belisol – ST
3) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky
4) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
5) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
6) Luka Mezgec (SVN) – Giant-Shimano
7) Davide Appollonio (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
9) Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
10) Enrique Sanz (ESP) – Movistar
1) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing – 17.59.56hrs
2) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp +3”
3) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +9”
4) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +11”
5) Sergey Chernetckii (RUS) – Katusha +23”
6) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Shimano – ST
7) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing
8) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Mikael Cherel (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +26”