The Spaniard started the stage to Fayence ninth on GC, with Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep) leading the standings. The stage started promisingly for Contador, who attacked with over 50 kilometres remaining. But when the dust settled in the picturesque town overlooking the Côte d'Azur, Contador found himself a spot higher but another six seconds down on Alaphilippe, 1:34 off the yellow jersey.
"Today I moved a little bit on the earlier climbs," he told Cyclingnews after congratulating stage winner, Simon Yates (Orica Scott), at the finish line.
"That was just to make the race a little bit harder for the leader. If not then it would have just been an easy day. Also, when I went with two climbs to go, it wasn't that hard of a climb. It was difficult to put time into any rivals. Then I made the decision to stop. It made the group smaller but in the finale, I just decided to follow the wheels."
With Yates attacking and holding off the bunch from 19 kilometres out, the race between the remaining GC contenders came down to the final, punishing ascent into Fayence, which suited climbers with a punchy acceleration. It was Sergio Henao who rode away to take second with Richie Porte in third. Contador came home in 8th, having shipped a handful of seconds to Alaphilippe.
"I didn't feel great," he said.
"I don't know why but the feelings weren't good. When we went up the Col de Bourigaille for the first time I said to myself, 'ok we just need to get through today as best as we can and tomorrow will be another day.' You never know why you have this feeling, but it's important to get back, eat well and then recover for tomorrow."
Contador has two more stages to resurrect his Paris-Nice, although growing sense is that the Spaniard lacks his top form at the moment.
"That's a very different stage. Today I lost some very important seconds to some riders. Victory will be difficult, but we'll look towards tomorrow."
Contador is still searching for his first win since moving to Trek-Segafredo in the winter. His last victory came in the opening test of the Criterium du Dauphine in 2016. This year he has pinpointed the Tour de France as his major objective.