American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) put in a hard attack today to escape his breakaway companions to take Stage Four in Paris-Nice.
That break went away today after 70 kilometers of fast, tense racing, as the QuickStep led peloton was repeatedly attacked. Vande Velde, Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Bank), Tony Martin (Team Columbia - Highroad), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and Xavier Florencio (Cervélo TestTeam) managed to escape.
While the breakaway was not gaining distance on the field due to having some big name riders in it, the real action was happening within the pack. Several teams, including QuickStep and Bouygues Telecom set a hard pace, causing a split on the field.
The heavy favourite, Alberto Contador (Astana) was, for the second day in a row, caught in the wrong part of the peloton as it made its split. From that point, it was his duty to claw back time on leader Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) and bring himself back into overall contention.
On the Côte de Rochetaillée, a five-kilometer climb, Contador attacked the peloton hard, showing off his superior climbing ability, distancing himself from Chavanel, and bridging the gap back up to the front peloton that had left him behind earlier in the race.
Up front, though, the chaotic events in the peloton meant that the breakaway riders did not get caught. With 20 kilometers to go, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) made a bold attack on his companions and took the stage in a solo bid. Coming in after him were Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano) and Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre).
Contador finished in the front group with Hivert and Lorenzetto, 19 seconds behind Vande Velde, but more importantly for the Spaniard, 27 seconds ahead of Chavanel.
In the standings tonight, Frenchman Chavanel keeps the overall lead, but it has shrunken now to only six seconds ahead of Rabobank's Juan Manuel Garate and 36 in front of Juan Antonio Flecha. Contador climbed his way back up to fourth overall, also 36 seconds adrift.
With the Spaniard now back in contention, he will now be very dangerous for the next three stages in the mountains.