Belgium's Jan Bakelants used every last ounce of energy to push over the line and win stage two of the 100th Tour de France as the peloton frantically chased him down at the finish.
The Radioshack Leopard rider was the sole survivor of a six-man attack, which broke away with less than seven kilometres of the 156km stage from Bastia remaining.
The peloton, led by Peter Sagan, were pedalling furiously down the final stretch, but even as Bakelants appeared to be all out of energy, he dug deep to take the yellow jersey from Marcel Kittel, who had been dropped in the mountains along with Mark Cavendish.
Sagan crossed in second ahead of Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Michal Kwiatkowski, with Lampre-Merida's Davide Cimolai fourth and Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky in fifth.
This challenging second stage of the Tour had seen plenty of excitement in the mountains earlier in the afternoon, but then came to life for a second time when the riders approached the final categorised climb of the day, a short but steep ramp 12 kilometres from the finish.
Former Team Sky man Jan Flecha attacked, quickly joined by Europcar's Cyril Gautier.
But Team Sky had been setting the pace at the front of the peloton for most of the stage and Chris Froome sent a message to his rivals as he accelerated away to set off after Gautier.
The attack lasted only three kilometres before Froome allowed the peloton to catch him, but Gautier's proved to be the third doomed attack of the day from a French Europcar rider.
It was another Frenchman, birthday boy Sylvain Chavanel who led six riders out on one final attack, briefly enjoying the lead before handing over responsibility.
There was further drama four kilometres from the end when a small dog ran into the road, almost colliding with the breakaway and then standing in front of the approaching peloton before leaping out of the way in the nick of time.
Five of the six escapees were doomed, but Bakelants kicked again with two kilometres to go and clung on for a victory which puts him in yellow thanks to Kittel's disappointing day.
The German eventually crossed the line in the grupetto more than 17 minutes back, with the stragglers also including Cavendish and his team-mate Tony Martin - a surprise starter today after he suffered a catalogue of nasty injuries in yesterday's dramatic crash.
Cavendish had, like Kittel, fallen back on the approach to the category two Col de Vizzanova, adding to a frustrating start for the Manxman after his dreams of wearing yellow were ended amid yesterday's chaos in Bastia.
British veteran David Millar, who survived the mayhem to finish fourth on stage one, is today just one second behind Bakelants in second place in the general classification after coming home in the peloton.
Millar last wore yellow on his Tour debut back in 2000.
As with yesterday's opening stage, there was an early break as Ruben Perez (Euskaltel Euskadi), David Veilleux (Europcar), Blel Kadri (AG2R La Mondiale) and Lars Boom (Belkin) led the way out of Bastia.
Boom, part of yesterday's escape, took the intermediate sprint for the second day running as well as the points for the first categorised climb, but it was on the second, the Col de la Serra, that the action really began.
With the breakaway beginning to struggle, Europcar's Thomas Voeckler launched a trademark attack from the front of the peloton just as the likes of Cavendish and Kittel were dropped at the back.
Voeckler soon caught Perez and Boom, and then Veilleux, but Kadri clung on to reach the summit first and Voeckler had to give up the chase and drop back.
Kadri's hopes of crossing the Col de Vizzanova first were hit by a mechanical issue and Pierre Rolland saw his chance, the second of the French Europcar attacks of the day.
He beat Kadri to the summit and enjoyed a lead of 30 seconds on the descent, but - never known for his descending skills - he seemed to think better of it as the gradients grew and sat up to wait for the peloton.
There was a rotating cast of BMC Racing and Cannondale riders at the very front of the group, but the one constant was Team Sky's presence, with Froome being guided towards Ajaccio by his team-mates before the late drama.
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