Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) won stage seven of the Tour of Britain, pipping Team Sky’s Elia Viviani in a photo finish in Ipswich.
The German sprinted to victory on the penultimate day after a big lead-out from Lotto-Soudal, doing just enough to beat double stage winner Viviani by the smallest of margins.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), meanwhile, will ride into London as race leader – on the brink of becoming the first person ever to win two editions of the modern Tour of Britain – after finishing fifth.
The penultimate stage saw plenty of interesting side-stories play out on the road from Fakenham to Ipswich, with the stage animated by a three-strong all-British break.
Alex Dowsett (Movistar) was in the move, which after his exploits in last year’s race was always going to be dangerous, and he was ably assisted by Graham Briggs (JLT-Condor) and Gabriel Cullaigh (Great Britain).
Their spirited effort saw the trio build their lead up to seven minutes, but it wasn’t just the sprinters interested in bringing them back as Madison-Genesis targeted mountains points to snatch the polka dot jersey.
The British domestic team hit the front hard and set a frantic pace, clawing back first Dowsett and then the other two as they approached Brantham Hill.
With Tom Stewart having already picked up three points over the first climb of the day, it was level-pegging between him and Peter Williams (One Pro Cycling) for the King of the Mountains title, with no climbs on the London circuit on stage eight.
One Pro Cycling were alert to the danger, however, with Williams led to the front by team-mates George Harper and Marcin Bialoblocki to seal the jersey – Stewart took third behind Harper.
Having sorted that mini battle, the attention then turned to the anticipated bunch sprint and with Etixx-QuickStep depleted in numbers it was Lotto-Soudal who led the way into Ipswich.
Team Sky also came forward to tee up Viviani, while Boasson Hagen was never far from the front, but it was Greipel who opened the sprint out.
The German led from the front and just held off the challenge of the rampaging Italian behind him to clock victory number 16 of the season.
Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling) finished third, but it was fifth-placed Boasson Hagen who had most to celebrate in the peloton, knowing he has all-but-sealed victory to follow his triumph in 2009.
Owain Doull (Team WIGGINS), meanwhile, finished sixth to leave him one second off the podium – bonus seconds on the final day could seal third place for the young Brit.
Tour of Britain 2015: stage seven – result
1) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Soudal – 5.14.42hrs
2) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Team Sky – ST
3) Sondre Holst Enger (NOR) – IAM Cycling
4) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Etixx-QuickStep
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – MTN-Qhubeka
6) Owain Doull (GBR) – Team WIGGINS
7) Rasmus Guldhammer (DEN) – Cult Energy
8) Jonas van Genechten (BEL) – IAM Cycling
9) Dylan van Baarle (NED) – Cannondale-Garmin
10) Jens Debusschere (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal
1) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – MTN-Qhubeka – 33.02.36hrs
2) Wout Poels (NED) – Team Sky +13”
3) Rasmus Guldhammer (DEN) – Cult Energy +43”
4) Owain Doull (GBR) – Team WIGGINS +44”
5) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Etixx-QuickStep +51”
6) Ruben Fernandez (ESP) – Movistar – ST
7) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – Team LottoNL-Jumbo
8) Dylan van Baarle (NED) – Cannondale-Garmin +59”
9) Chris Anker Sorensen (DEN) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
10) Xandro Meurisse (BEL) – An Post Chain Reaction +1.02