After looking home and hosed shortly after the second ballot, support for favourite Kenneth Clarke suddenly collapsed with victory seemingly within his grasp.
His pact with the defeated challenger John Redwood looked to have settled matters but there was a violent reaction to what seemed to be an "unholy alliance" of political opposites.
In the final round, Mr Clarke polled only 70 votes compared to William Hague's 92. Given that he had polled 64 in the second round, it seems likely that some of Mr Clarke's supporters abandoned him in the final furlong. In addition, he failed to attract enough of Mr Redwood's backers into his camp.
The big-hitting Mr Clarke was the first out of the stalls, announcing his candidacy only hours after John Major declared his intention to stand down, but then seemed to stop campaigning. For a while, his only public appearances were in the Commons, such as when he
criticised Gordon Brown's changes to the financial regulation system.
However, towards the run-up to the first ballot, Mr Clarke emerged from the shadows and established himself as the narrow favourite - especially after
Stephen Dorrell joined his team.
Also known as 'The Bruiser' Mr Clarke was the candidate most feared by Labour: he has a wealth of experience in government, is a formidable Commons performer and his 'bloke next door' image, including cigars, hush-puppies, and a Ford Escort, makes him a popular figure with the public.
The only candidate on the left of the party, Mr Clarke has alienated many on the right of the party due to his pro-European stance. During the election campaign he refused to allow the Conservatives to rule out membership of a single European currency. Some on the right of the party blame this for the Tories' landslide defeat.
He had the confirmed support of Michael Heseltine and Stephen Dorrell, most Conservative peers and all of the party's European MPs. He also was by a long way the choice of ordinary constituency members in every survey of the local associations.