Resurgent Remco Evenepoel won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege cycling classic on Sunday after his Quick-Step team leader Julian Alaphilippe was rushed to hospital following a mass crash.
In his first appearance in the race, the 22-year-old Belgian Evenepoel dropped his rivals 30km from the finish of the epic 257km run through the narrow, Ardennes forest lanes to seal a career landmark solo triumph in 6hr 12min 38sec.
Quinten Hermans was second while Wout Van Aert was third for an all-Belgian podium as 12 riders followed Evenepoel over the line 48sec adrift on a fast-paced 108th edition of this race known as La Doyenne, the oldest of the five ultra-long one-day 'Monument' races.
"It's crazy," said the winner. "My first ever Liege and I win it."
"I wanted to explode the race on the Redoute (a climb in the industrial neighbourhood outside Liege) and then I managed to cling on," said the former football apprentice who was double junior world champion in 2018.
Riding the final kilometre through Liege, Evenepoel looked behind to see the extent of his advantage before savouring the moment.
Evenepoel was billed as the great future hope of cycling until he plunged into a ravine two years ago whilst leading the prestige Tour of Lombardy.
"I thank everyone who believed I would get back to my best level," he said of his long convalescence.
"I have done that and today I'm among the best in the world."
"He was the best, there was no stopping him," said third-placed Van Aert.
The victory makes up for an underwhelming classics campaign from the usually dominant Quick-Step side, whose leader Patrick Lefevere insisted on reserving judgement until Sunday.
Evenepoel's team leader, the two-time defending world champion Alaphilippe fell 60km from home after British rider Tom Pidcock tumbled as the peloton was racing hard, taking down a mass of riders.
The Frenchman flew off the road and downhill where a tree broke his fall and where his mangled bike was abandoned as he was taken away by ambulance.
His team later said Alaphilippe had suffered two broken ribs, a broken shoulder and a collapsed lung.
"His condition his stable, but will need to be hospitalised for observation," said Quick-Step in a statement.
"There was great confusion in the peloton, we also didn't know if some of us were involved or not so we hesitated for a couple of minutes," said Bahrain Victorious' Matej Mohoric, hinting the crash had an impact on the outcome.
Alejandro Valverde was caught in the crash, as were Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet and Wilco Kelderman as the pack was reduced to 60 riders.
The 2018 world champion Valverde rallied to finish seventh.