Giorgia Bronzini kept the women's crown in Italian hands when she sprinted to victory in the 127.2km event at the world road race cycling championships on Saturday.
Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, the 2006 champion, finished second for her fourth consecutive silver while Emma Johansson of Sweden took the bronze.
Britain's Olympic champion Nicole Cooke finished fourth, just ahead of Germany's 2004 champion Judith Arndt.
Welshwoman Cooke launched a late attack with Arndt after the final climbs of the 10th and final lap.
But despite collaborating well, the duo's advantage was closed in the final kilometre by a Canadian-led group of riders who, in a thrilling finale, reeled the pair in with around 200 metres of the 750-metre home straight remaining.
Arndt tried desperately to pull away, and despite Vos leading a charge for the line up the inside of the barriers, Bronzini came off the Dutchwoman's wheel and timed her drive to perfection to cross the line in triumph.
Bronzini, who succeeds teammate Tatiana Guderzo as the women's world champion, said her job had been made easier by the fact the race only kicked into life in the final five laps of the hilly 15.9km circuit.
Her path to a maiden world road race title had also been smoothed by the fact many other sprinters had been left trailing.
"I waited right until the last possible moment for somebody to launch a long sprint, and that's what happened," said the Italian, who won the world title in track's points race in 2009.
"I know that Marianne is one of the best whether it's on a hill or in the sprint, and when she went I knew hers was the wheel to follow."
Vos, the Olympic points race champion who also has world titles in track and cyclocross, was left with a potential handicap when key teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten punctured at the foot of the last climb and was left trailing.
Despite being frustrated, she accepted the silver -- if it meant keeping Cooke and 2004 world champion Arndt off the podium.
"In the final I felt good but when it came down to making a decision I had little choice: either sprint and risk losing the gold or not sprint and risk seeing Nicole Cooke or Judith Arndt go all the way," said Vos.
"I knew Giorgia would be fast and I saw the Italians bringing her up to the front. But I had to make the choice of letting the other girls go, or sprint from 300 metres.
"But next year, I will be back."
After picking up her first piece of world silverware, Johansson was quick to explain why she lashed out physically at Vos shortly after the finish line.
"I thought Marianne had changed her line, but after seeing the video I realised that in fact she hadn't. It was the barriers that somehow moved in," said the Swede.
"During my sprint my helmet actually clashed with a spectator, so I hope he's all right. But overall I'm happy to win my first medal in the championships, though you always want more."
French legend Jeannie Longo, who will turn 52 next week, finished in 12th place only 3secs down.
"In the sprint I got closed in in the final 200 metres, but I'm not unhappy with my 12th place. It's respectable."
© AFP 2010
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