Yves Lampaert produced a masterful sprint finish to win the first individual stage of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana and claim the red jersey, while Vincenzo Nibali gained eight seconds on Chris Froome in the general classification.
Lampaert surged to his first stage win at a Grand Tour, capitalising after Quick-Step Floors split the field in the final two kilometres to beat team-mate Matteo Trentin and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) across the line.
There was no breakaway during the 203.4km ride from Nimes to Gruissan, the necessity to stop at a level crossing as a train sped through helping keep the peloton close together in the final stages.
"During the race we planned that if we could make an echelon, we would try in the last 10 kilometres," said Lampaert. "Just before the roundabout, they shouted at me, 'Go, go, go!' I knew I could ride one kilometre very fast and it worked out."
Team Sky failed to make a push with 7km remaining, and Tour de France champion Froome crossed the line eight seconds behind Bahrain-Merida rider Nibali.
Froome declared himself pleased with a 22-second advantage over his main GC rivals after opening team time trial, but Nibali cut that down to 14 seconds ahead of the first mountain stage.
Daniel Oss was part of the BMC Racing group that triumphed in the team trial and he was third in the route's intermediate sprint, Trentin crossing the line ahead of Marco Haller (Katusha).
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) finished 13 seconds off the pace as his GC challenge suffered another dent, the Spaniard now 52 seconds behind new leader Lampaert.
GOOD DAY/BAD DAY
Anass Ait El Abdia's first appearance at a Grand Tour proved to be a short one - it lasted just two days. The Moroccan UAE Team Emirates rider was involved in a crash with Marc Fournier (FDJ) and Javier Moreno (Bahrain-Merida) at the back of the peloton with 60km remaining.
Ait El Abdia was unable to continue on his bike and became the first person to abandon the Vuelta this year, with Moreno following him out of the competition soon after.
1. Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) 4:36:13
2. Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors)
3. Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport)
4. Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo)
5. Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates)
1. Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) 4:52:07
2. Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) +1s
3. Daniel Oss (BMC Racing Team) +3s
1. Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) 25 points
2. Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) 24 points
3. Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) 16 points
One route, three countries. Riders will travel from Prades Conflent Canigo in France and tackle their first climb on the Col de la Perche before passing through Spain and onto a further two gruelling ascents in Andorra to test the GC contenders' mettle.