The Spaniards dominated on the Côte de la Croix Neuve in Mende. And Alberto Contador dominated the Spaniards, winning the fourth stage of Paris-Nice and taking the leader’s jersey from the shoulders of Jens Voigt.



Contador is not at his best yet, but the ease with which he rode away from the rest on the steepest section of the hill, which has been named after Mende’s most famous son, Laurent Jalabert, will cause his rivals for the Tour de France a lot of concern.



His Astana team set a fierce tempo on the approach to the final two climbs of the day, reeling in a seven-man break that had enjoyed a healthy lead but never looked like getting far enough ahead to stay clear to the finish.



Again a rider from Vacansoleil (Marco Marcato), one from Skil-Shimano (Albert Timmer) and one from Saur-Sojasun (Jean Marc Marino) were in the big escape as they hope to impress enough to secure a wild card invite to the Tour. They had Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Julien Loubet (Ag2r), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) and Amael Moinard (Cofidis) for company.



Although their lead was still almost four minutes with 40 kilometres to go, they were caught with about 11 kilometres of the 173-kilometre stage to Mende remaining.



BBox Bouygues Telecom’s Pierre Rolland attacked on the Côte de Chabrits, which came shortly before the final three-kilometre rise to the finish. Then Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), winner of a Tour stage in the Pyrenees last year, secured the points for the king of the mountains competition.



The pace on the freezing cold descent was rapid and the bunch began to splinter as they neared the foot of the climb.



Jens Voigt, the 38-year-old race leader, had pain engraved on his face from the bottom of the final hill but he dug deep to hang onto a good position as the skinny climbers massed around him.



Xavier Tondo of Cervélo took up the pace, but when Contador decided to get out of the saddle and ride away from them, no one reacted.



Contador didn’t look as if he was anywhere near his maximum as he opened the gap and for a little while it looked as if Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez might drag their way back up to him.



But as the road steepened again, Contador lifted the pace again and stretched clear to win the stage by 10 seconds and sweep up the time bonus to put him into the overall lead.



With Valverde, Sanchez and Joaquin Rodriguez the next three over the line, Spain took the first four on the stage and now have five of the first seven places overall.



Thomas Voeckler’s fifth place was an impressive ride and Roman Kreuziger finished seventh, with Damiano Cunego, to stay third overall and regain the leadership of the Liquigas team from his 20-year-old team-mate Peter Sagan. The Slovakian has been the revelation of the race so far, but lost time today and slipped to eighth overall. Britain’s David Millar climbed steadily and fell from fourth to ninth.



The biggest loser was Levi Leipheimer who has fallen out of the top ten, a surprising result considering he has a free reign as Radioshack’s leader with Lance Armstrong not racing here.



The race looks to be a fight between the Spaniards now. Perhaps it should be renamed the Race to the Sol?



It’s worth bearing in mind Contador had victory in his grasp this time last year but blew it after failing to eat properly, losing time and handing the initiative to Luis Leon Sanchez.



Unlikely though it is that lightning will strike twice, there are still two difficult days to come. Tomorrow’s stage to Aix-en-Provence is straightforward, but the Col de Vence lurks at the end of Saturday’s very difficult stage, and there’s the traditional Col d’Eze on the run to Nice on Sunday.



And at least the weather forecast for the French Riviera is looking a bit more encouraging for the weekend. By Sunday the riders may even see the sun.



CONTADOR THE UNTOUCHABLE?

Alberto Contador’s record in stage races over the past three years is virtually unrivalled.



In the past two years, he has won eight of the 11 stage races he has entered.



2010

February – Tour of the Algarve 1st



2009

July – Tour de France 1st

June – Dauphiné Libéré 3rd

April – Tour of the Basque Country 1st

March – Vuelta a Castilla y Leon 3rd

March – Paris-Nice 4th

February – Tour of the Algarve 1st



2008

September – Vuelta a Espana 1st

May – Giro d’Italia 1st

April – Tour of the Basque Country 1st

March – Vuelta a Castilla y Leon 1st



PARIS-NICE RESULTS

Stage four: Maurs – Mende 173.5km


1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana

2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 10sec

3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi same time

4. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 18sec

5. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 20sec

6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 21sec

7. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas same time

8. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux at 29sec

9. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne same time

10. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 31sec



Overall classification after stage four

1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 17hr 07min 23sec

2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 24sec

3. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 25sec

4. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 28sec

5. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 29sec

6. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank at 34sec

7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 36sec

8. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas at 54sec

9. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 1-03

10. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 1-06

 Samuel Sanchez, Paris-Nice 2010, stage four

Samuel Sanchez

Alberto Contador attacks, Paris-Nice 2010, stage four



Alberto Contador attacks

Alberto Contador, Paris-Nice 2010, stage four



Contador wins the stage and takes the overall lead

Paris-Nice 2010: Stage reports



Stage three: Sagan is the new kid on the block



Stage two: William Bonnet wins in Limoges after chaotic finish



Stage one: Sky’s Henderson wins as wind splits bunch



Prologue: Boom beats the big names to win

Paris-Nice 2010: News, comment and analysis

Stage three shortened due to snow

Steegmans blown off bike during time trial

Paris-Nice 2010: The Big Preview

Paris-Nice 2010: Photo galleries



Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson



Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson