The stage was overshadowed by a huge crash with 65 kilometres to go that involved over 20 riders and led to T-Mobile"s Olaf Pollack being carried away in a neck brace. Jose Ivan Gutierrez, lying just 15 seconds behind leader Hincapie, was also involved, though he managed to work his way back to the peloton.
By this stage, the quartet of Davitamon's Mario Aerts, Phonak's Gregory, Euskaltel's Andoni Aranaga Azkune and Skil-Shimano's Sebastien Langeveld had established a useful five minute lead over the field, and were working well together. With an advantage of 1'30" with just 15 kilometres to go, it seemed the escapees might just stay away as the peloton appeared disorganised.
But Milram and Gerolsteiner were keen on giving their sprinters a shot at victory, and took responsibility, picking up the pace and roping the leaders back in. With three kilometres to go, the game was up, but with the quartet just metres in front, another attack came from the duo of Johan Coenen and Jeremy Hunt.
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Coenen launched the Briton, who gave his all, but ultimately in vain. With just one kilometre to go he was caught, and the sprinters began to move into position.
Tom Boonen was one notable exception. He had already stated his dislike of the final hairpin bend just a few hundred metres from the finish, and remained back in the field.
Instead, Quickstep's Steven de Jongh led them through the final turn, before Belgian Philippe Gilbert put his head down and kicked for home. Kopp though, remained on his wheel, and came past with relative ease, crossing the line with arms aloft.
Marco Zanotti took second with Philippe Gilbert third, though Wouter Weylandt back in fourth will doubtless have been a little miffed at being impeded by his compatriot's ragged sprinting.
The top 10 in the general classification was unaffected, other than Gilbert moving above Quinziato by virtue of his four second time bonus, and Discovery Channel's George Hincapie will go into tomorrow's final stage in pole position for overall victory.
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