Belgium's Philippe Gilbert produced a scintillating burst of speed to win the world road race in the Netherlands.
The 30-year-old attacked on the last of 11 ascents of the Cauberg after 269km of racing on an undulating course.
Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen was second, four seconds behind, with Spain's Alejandro Valverde third.
Britain's Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was 19th, five seconds adrift, while
2011 winner Mark Cavendish
quit through exhaustion with 110km to go.
had already indicated that the hilly terrain meant he had no chance of winning the race
but the outgoing world champion put in a tremendous stint for his British team-mates, controlling the pace of the peloton for around 100km after 11 riders established a break.
BBC Sport co-commentator David Millar on Gilbert
"It was incredibly impressive. He was the favourite, in spite of the year he has had, which has been pretty terrible. But he started to hit form in the Vuelta a Espana and did it in the manner for which he is reknowned for winning races, launching a late attack and winning it on his own."
Cavendish's selfless work allowed Tiernan-Locke in particular, among his team-mates, the chance to conserve energy by riding in the peloton.
He eventually tailed off after completing three of the 10 16km circuits that made up the closing 160km of the race.
"I'm more tired after 140km than after 250km last year," Cavendish conceded.
His British team-mates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, who were first and second in this year's Tour de France, also failed to finish the race, pulling out after five laps.
However, Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, Luke Rowe and Steve Cummings all continued to help Tour of Britain champion Tiernan-Locke to keep pace with the leaders.
As the laps ticked down, Tiernan-Locke tracked more experienced riders such as Alberto Contador of Spain, who was riding to try to set up Valverde, up the 1,200m-long Cauberg hill which had to be negotiated towards the end of each lap.
The 27-year-old Brit was well-placed going into the final ascent but Gilbert's experience of the hill - he has twice won the Amstel Gold one-day race which finishes at its summit - paid dividends as he blew the race apart with a devastating burst.
BBC Sport co-commentator David Millar on the British effort
"It was typical of Cav to turn up and make the team ride and make their presence felt. They rode remarkably well, even towards the end. Jon Tiernan-Locke produced an amazing ride and Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Ben Swift all impressed. I think that comes from the confidence with which Cav decided to approach it. Everyone was questioning how Tiernan-Locke would go after the 200km mark, and he was following Contador, which is alright! Next year will be a bit of an apprenticeship. It is going to be a learning year for him, but with the talent he has, he will be up there at the front."
As Gilbert rode away from the field over the summit of the Cauberg, Boasson Hagen, Valverde and Russia's Alexander Kolobnev appeared more concerned with each other than trying to catch the leader who still had more than 1km to race.
"I've won some big one-day races in my career but this is so special," Gilbert, who won in six hours, 10 minutes and 41 seconds, told BBC Sport. "I now get to wear the rainbow jersey every day for 12 months."
Tiernan-Locke finished in the main bunch of riders just five seconds behind Gilbert to earn the plaudits of GB performance director Dave Brailsford.
"it was a brilliant performance by the team in its entirety," he said.
"The older generation decided to take the work on early doors and then the younger guys - Rowe, Swift and Stannard - continued that on.
"Hats off to Jon Tiernan-Locke. It is the longest race he has ever competed in and he showed great confidence and maturity when he went with Contador in that move.
"It was a fantastic performance and it bodes well for the future. The priority now will be to get him in more big races and competing at this level in future."
Philippe Gilbert (Bel) 6:10:41"
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) +4"
Alejandro Valverde (Spa) +5"
John Degenkolb (Ger)
Lars Boom (Ned)
Allan Davis (Aus)
Thomas Voeckler (Fra)
Ramunas Navardauskas (Lit)
Sergio Henao (Col)
Oscar Freire (Spa)
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (GB) +5"
Ian Stannard (GB) +53"
Ben Swift (GB) +2'21"
Stephen Cummings (GB)
Luke Rowe (GB) +5'46"
Did not finish:
Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Alex Dowsett (all GB)