AFP - France's Jerome Pineau won a dramatic late sprint finish with the peloton bearing down his neck to claim the fifth stage of the Tour of Italy over 169km from Novara to Novi Ligure on Thursday.
The Quick Step rider edged out breakaway companions Julien Fouchard, also of France, and Japan's Yukiya Arashiro with the peloton just running out of tarmac in its bid to catch the trio.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the Liquigas team retained the race leader's pink jersey.
On a day that always looked likely to be dominated by the sprinters it was no surprise to see a rash of breaks from the start.
Bbox's Arashiro finally made one stick about 15km in and 10km later he was joined by Pineau, Cofidis's Fouchard and Paul Voss of Milram.
With Fouchard the highest ranked rider, outside the top 100 and more than 11 minutes off the lead pace at the start of the day, there was every chance that the foursome would be given some leeway.
Around halfway through the race the gap was up to almost six minutes before gradually starting to drop.
With 25km to go Voss cracked and was dropped by the lead three while the gap was now down to around two and a half minutes.
At the 9km mark the gap had come down to under a minute and it seemed a forlorn hope for the three leaders but they soldiered on.
Even into the final kilometre the peloton had them in their sights just eight seconds back but some windy parts to the home stretch greatly helped the leaders.
Arashiro certainly wasn't prepared to quit and made a long dash for home with Pineau on his wheel and Fouchard just behind that.
A 90-degree right-hand bend with about 300-metres left really slowed the peloton and it became clear that the leaders would survive.
Pineau kicked and left Arashiro trailing while Fouchard could not match his countryman's pace and finished a bike-length behind.
Arashiro came in third with American Tyler Farrar leading the peloton home a few seconds back.
Nibali maintained his 13-second lead over team-mate and compatriot Ivan Basso, a former winner of this Tour, with Valerio Agnoli third at 20sec.
Friday's sixth stage is the first mountainous stage of the race over 172km from Fidenza to Marina di Carrara.