Gert Steegmans emulated Tom Boonen when he won the first two stages of Paris-Nice, a feat his absent Quick Step team leader achieved in 2005 and 2006.
Winner of a mass sprint in Nevers in the first stage, the Belgian made it two in Belleville, a town in which Boonen had also triumphed two years ago.
The result was the same but the script slightly different as Steegmans this time belonged to a prestigious break of four riders including race leader Thor Hushovd, Franceâ€™s Sylvain Chavanel and Swiss hopeful Michael Albasini.
Hushovd, who showed off by attacking in the final descent with the yellow jersey on his back, remains a solid leader.
The stage was marked by a 151-kms breakaway by Franceâ€™s Thierry Hupond.
2nd stage Nevers â€“ Belleville (201 kms)
158 riders at the start.
Weather : rain at the start, cloudy on the course.
Intermediate sprints :
Km 56 â€“ Vitry-sur-Loire
Km 128.5 â€“ St Christophe-en-Brionnais
Climbs of the day :
Km 141 â€“ Cote de la Clayette (3rd cat)
Km 160 â€“ Col de Champ juin (3rd cat)
Km 167.5 â€“ Col de Crie (3rd cat)
Km 181.5 â€“ Col du Fut dâ€™Avenas (2nd cat)
The start was given at 14 :49 to 158 riders. Spainâ€™s Oscar Pereiro (Caisse dâ€™Epargne), the 2006 Tour de France winner, did not start because of bronchitis. His compatriot Arkaitz Duran Aroca also called it quits early in the stage.
The fiurst break, at kilometre 15, involved three Frenchmen, Remi Pauriol (CA), Clement Lhotellerie (SKS) and Sebastien Minard (COF). Two other Frenchmen tried their luck in turn — Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), at kilometre 29, and local rider Thierry Hupond (Skil Shimano), a kilometre later.
Hupondâ€™s move gained momentum and his lead reched six minutes at kilometre 46. At kilometre 51, with a lead of 7:40, Hupond was the virtual race leader, trailing Thor Hushovd by 6:58 at the start.
The Frenchman won the first intermediate sprint in Vitry-sur-Loire ahead of Germanyâ€™s Markus Eichler (Milram) and Briton David Millar (Slipstream).
The gap topped at 15:10 in Paray-le-Monial (km 105.5) and started decreasing as Hushovdâ€™s Credit Agricole team-mates launched the chase.
At the second intermediate sprint in St Christophe-in-Brionnais, in which Hushovd took second place ahead of 1st stage winner Gert Steegmans, Hupondâ€™s lead was down to 13:15.
Two crashes shortly before the first climb of the day split the bunch. Cadel Evans, David Millar and Davide Rebellin were among the riders held back but they returned in the peloton in the descent. By contrast, Frank Schlek (CSC), directly involved in the crash, and white jersey holder Andryi Grivko were trapped further back.
At the top of the cote de la Clayette (3rd cat, km 141), Hupond was first ahead of team-mate Clement Lhotellerie and another Frenchman, Yoann Le Boulanger (FDJ).
Hupond kept a 6:30 lead at the top of the Col de Champ Juin (3rd cat, km 160), ahead of Le Boulanger and Dmitry Fofonov (Credit Agricole).
On the col de Crie (3rd cat, km167.5), second-placed was Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) ahead of Le Boulanger. Flecha broke from the bunch in the descent to chase Hupond on his own.
The Frenchman was caught shortly before the top of the Col du Fut dâ€™Avenas (2nd category) by Benat Intxausti (Saunier Duval) and Flecha. But Hupond earned a fine consolation prize : the best climberâ€™s polka-dot jersey.
In the descent, Hushovd took advantage of the junction to part with his rivals.
With five kilometres to go, he was joined by Sylvan Chavanel (Cofidis), Swiss Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Steegmans. The Belgian was, like in Nevers, the strongest of the lot and he surged with 200 metres to go to win his second stage in succession ahead of Hushovd and Chavanel.
Hushovd retained his overall leaderâ€™s yellow jersey.
Gert Steegmans : Â« It was very cold and rainy in the beginning and as a result the peloton was not very well organised in the finale. There were several attacks and in the last one, there were four of us. I realised I could not wait for a mass sprint when Philippe Gilbert attacked. He can always be dangerous if you let him go. Then it was Hushovdâ€™s turn.
"Itâ€™s true that I like this kind of slightly uphill finishes. Iâ€™m probably the heaviest rider who likes hills. Â»
Thor Hushovd : Â« It was a long and cold day with a lot of rain. A guy attacked in the descent and I followed him and I found myself on my own... then I understood I could not go all the way by myself. Next there were four of us, four strong riders and the best man won.
Today was tough enough, tomorrow Iâ€™ll be happy to just make it to the finish, weâ€™ll see. Â»
Hushovd retains his Paris-Nice leader’s yellow jersey.
Top five placings in the 201-kms 2nd stage of Paris-Nice between Nevers and Belleville:
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel, FDJ)
Steegmans logically won his second stage in succession, ahead of Hushovd, Chavanel and Albasini.
Victory should now go to Hushovd, Albasini, Steegmans or Chavanel.
The four escapees increase their lead to 17 seconds with two kilometres left.