Unstoppable Contador Seizes Control in Paris-Nice
Alberto Contador (Team Astana) leads Ajejandro Valverde (Team Caisse d'Epargne) by 24 seconds in the overall standings.
Twice Tour de France champion Alberto Contador seized control of the Paris-Nice race when he snatched a solo win in the fourth stage to lead a Spanish 1-2-3 on Thursday.
The Astana rider attacked the pack in the final ascent to Mende and beat compatriots Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez by 10 seconds.
"It was a difficult day. I was not sure what the best tactics was but I tried and I made the difference. I am satisfied," Contador told reporters.
The Spaniard experienced a tough start to the race in gusty winds, freezing temperatures and a crash that left him bruised on Monday.
"It had been very difficult with the crash and the wind. Now, the race is on but there are still three difficult days ahead."
Contador, who cracked in the penultimate stage of the race last year, snatched the yellow jersey from German Jens Voigt and now leads Valverde by 24 seconds, with Czech Roman Kreuziger in third place 25 seconds off the pace.
German Heinrich Haussler, who crashed with Contador on Monday, pulled out after 35 km with a knee injury.
A group of seven led by France's Jerome Pineau broke away early in the stage and built a gap of four minutes and thirty seconds.
But the Saxo Bank and Astana teams stepped up a gear as the peloton caught the fugitives around 15 km from the line.
As expected, Contador made his move midway through the ascent to Mende, a 3.1-km effort at an average gradient of 10.1 per cent.
He followed Christophe Le Mevel when the Frenchman tried his luck in the first stages of the climb before leaving everyone for dead when he decided to accelerate.
None of his rivals could match his pace.
Voigt cracked, along with last year's winner Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain, while Valverde and Olympic champion Sanchez could only limit the damage.
Voigt crossed the line 44 seconds behind Contador while Sanchez, who last year took full advantage of his compatriot's failure in the penultimate stage, was 29 seconds off the winner's pace.