Zottegem - Peter Sagan took the overall lead on the first day of the Three Days of De Panne cycling race on Tuesday after he won the first stage, a 201-kilometre ride from La Panne to Zottegem.
However, the 24-year-old Slovakian, nicknamed the 'Terminator', failed in his bid to hand stage victory to Cannondale team-mate Oscar Gatto.
Sagan slowed down in the final metres to let the Italian pass him but Gatto wasn't capable of doing so, and Sagan took the stage instead, millimetres ahead of his team-mate for his fourth win of the season.
"I eased up to allow Oscar to pass me but that wasn't sufficient," said Sagan.
"The eseential thing is that the team won the stage in any case."
Gatto took second while Belgian Kenneth Van Bilsen was third in a group of 10 riders who had broken away from the peloton on the ride into Zottegem.
Overall race favourite Niki Terpstra of the Netherlands was one of those who got away and he ended up finishing eighth.
Sagan, who won the Tour de France green points jersey last year, said he had opted to race in the Three Days of La Panne as he saw it as perfect preparation for Sunday's classic one-day race The Tour of Flanders.
Some of his main rivals for Sunday's feature race, including Swiss star Fabian Cancellara and Belgian ace Tom Boonen, decided to skip the stage race.
"This race is an excellent opportunity to test my legs," said Sagan.
"The one thing to avoid, however, is not to take ridiculous risks."
Earlier on Tuesday the race lost one of its star attractions as top British sprint specialist Mark Cavendish had announced he had pulled out due to an upset stomach.
The 28-year-old, winner of 25 stages on the Tour de France and points jersey winner in 2011, fell ill with gastro-enteritis following his fifth-placed finish in the Milan-San Remo and withdrew from last Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
Wednesday's second stage sees the riders take on the 205 kilometres from Zottegem to Oostduinkerke.
Results after the first stage of the Three Days of De Panne cycling race on Tuesday, a 201-kilometre ride from La Panne to Zottegem, Belgium:
1. Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale 4hr 29min 39sec, 2. Oscar Gatto (ITA) same time, 3. Kenneth Van Bilsen (BEL) s.t., 4. Gert Steegmans (BEL) s.t., 5. Laurens De Vreese (BEL) s.t., 6. Mauro Finetto (ITA) s.t., 7. Vincent Jerome (FRA) s.t., 8. Niki Terpstra (NED) s.t., 9. Jerome Baugnies (BEL) s.t., 10. Sander Cordeel (BEL) s.t.
1. Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale 4hr 29min 29sec, 2. Oscar Gatto (ITA) at 4sec, 3. Kenneth Van Bilsen (BEL) 6, 4. Gert Steegmans (BEL) 7, 5. Laurens De Vreese (BEL) 10, 6. Mauro Finetto (ITA) 10, 7. Vincent Jerome (FRA) 10, 8. Niki Terpstra (NED) 10, 9. Jerome Baugnies (BEL) 10, 10. Sander Cordeel (BEL) 10.