Former world champion Tom Boonen drew a golden lining around his mediocre classics season by claiming his second Paris-Roubaix triumph after a dramatic finale here Sunday.
Switzerland's 2006 champion Fabian Cancellara finished second ahead of Italy's Alessandro Ballan after Boonen left both stunned with an unstoppable sprint 200 metres from the velodrome finish line.
The trio rode into the velodrome together after having built a 1min 20sec lead on the small group of riders which contained teammates of both Boonen and Cancellara with 20km remaining of the 259.5km cobblestoned classic.
They were left unchallenged for the remainder, but the onset of cramps for both CSC ace Cancellara and lanky Lampre rider Ballan effectively ended their hopes of launching a late attack on Boonen.
After Ballan led the trio around the first of the one and a half laps which completed the race at the packed outdoor velodrome, Boonen's superior sprint powers were put to full use.
Having been upstaged by one of his own teammates in last week's Tour of Flanders, the Belgian was quick to shoot down his detractors after winning arguably the toughest classic of them all.
"When I don't win, people always say I'm losing my form. But I've done everything I can to try and win the big classics this season, Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix," said Boonen, whose last major win was his second Tour of Flanders crown in 2006.
"In total I've got six wins so far this season. How many riders in the peloton can say that?"
Ballan, who succeeded Boonen as Tour of Flanders champion in 2007, admitted he ran out of juice.
"I had cramps with about 15km to go and just had nothing left to give," said the Italian, who also finished third here in 2006.
"So to be on the podium is a good result for me. I'm convinced more than ever that this race suits me perfectly. I'll be back to try again, but this time to win."
Cancellara went in as the big favourite having shown his form with recent victories at Milan-SanRemo and the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race.
His bid was also boosted by a determination to bury claims by Boonen that he had lost some of that early season form.
In the end, the two-time world time trial champion - boosted throughout Sunday by strong rides from his team and in particular defending champion Stuart O'Grady - simply didn't have the sprint power to match his Belgian rival.
But for Cancellara, defeat left his glass more half full than half empty.
"A win at Milan-SanRemo, second place at Paris-Roubaix - I'm more than happy," said Cancellara, who had failed to live up to expectations at last week's much hillier cobbled classic in Flanders.
One of the fastest ever starts to the race saw the peloton ride nearly 100km in the first two hours.
The pace proved too much for outside favourite Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole, who stepped off his bike at the first of two feed stops after less than 115km.
The big Norwegian was not the only contender to fall victim to the vicious pace, and treacherous roads, of the 'Hell of the North' - with American George Hincapie and Belgian Hoste failing to live up to expectations.
Hincapie's bid looked to be alive and kicking after he did well to stay with a 30-strong group of riders that left the rest behind after the difficult Arenberg forest cobblestone sector.
But the big New Yorker soon found himself with a broken wheel. Playing a tough game of catch-up after his High Road team car had eventually given him a spare was how he spent the final 50km.
He was despondent as he left the famed Roubaix showers, but said he would be back for another ride into hell.
"I've got to win it," he said. "I'm disappointed at not being able to win today but I know that it's still possible."