Alberto Contador put the hammer down with less than two kilometres to go to destroy the field in today’s Stage 4 of Paris-Nice as the race wound out of Mende on a Category 1 climb that left most riders struggling as the road kicked up sharply towards the finish.
The win, by ten seconds from compatriots Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d’Epargne and Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi, also put the Spanish Astana rider into the race leader’s yellow jersey, despite a valiant effort by Team Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt to hold on to his position at the top of the general classification.
With 32 riders starting today’s stage within a minute of the 38-year-old German and a summit finish, Voigt, who had jokingly told French sports daily L’Equipe that “there should be a grey jersey for riders 35 and older" was always going to have to pull out something special to retain the race lead, and the pain and effort showed on his face as he hung onto the leading group to try to limit his losses.
An early break in the 173.5 kilometre stage from Maurs featuring riders including Albert Timmer of Skil Shimano at one point managed to build a lead of around five minutes, but the final escapees were swept up at the 11 kilometre to go mark as the race favourities steeled themselves for battle on the day’s final climb.
Once Contador made his move, however, there was only going to be one winner, and the two time Tour de France winner now has what could prove to be an unassailable 24 second lead at the top of the general classification over Valverde, whose team-mate and defending champion Luis Leon Sanchez lies fourth, a further two seconds back.
Samuel Sanchez in fifth completes the Spanish quartet in the top five, with Czech rider Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas breaking the Iberian grip on the race, lying in third place, 25 seconds down on Contador.
With today’s stage being the only summit finish of this year’s race, which concludes on Sunday, Contador, who won the race in 2007 and finished fourth last year must now be firm favourite for the overall victory. Racing resumes tomorrow with a 157 kilometre stage from Pernes-les-Fontaines Aix-en-Provence.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.