Almost nine years on from his victory in Paris-Nice in 2009, Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) once again finds himself in the race's maillot jaune thanks to a late attack on a climb during stage 3.
Unlike that year, when Sanchez ripped the leader's jersey from the shoulders of Alberto Contador with a 17km attack into Fayence that earned him a lead of more than a minute going into the final stage, Tuesday's gains were far more modest on the 210km stage from Bourges to Châtel-Guyon.
Sanchez joined a move from Remy di Gregorio (Delko Marseille Provence) with 16km to go and, joined by Direct Energie's Jonathan Hivert who went on to win the stage, the trio pulled out an advantage of 38 seconds by the line, giving Sanchez a 28-second lead in the general classification over sprinter Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).
With an 18.4km individual time trial on tap on Wednesday, Sanchez is keeping his ambitions for the week in check, although he is clearly on a run of form reminiscent of 2009, with a victory in the Vuelta a Murcia and a second place in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana already in the bag.
"I am in the yellow jersey and that's of course really nice," Sanchez said. "Tomorrow we will have the first big test in this Paris-Nice. I hope to recover as well as possible after today's effort and to do my best in tomorrow's TT to keep my yellow jersey. Let's see how it works out."
There had been speculation that Sanchez would be the GC man for Paris-Nice over Jakob Fuglsang, and a crash on the opening stage for the Dane cost him 1:38. But Fuglsang's stinging attacks on the Cote de Charbonnieres helped to set Sanchez up for the stage.
"I still feel some pain of the crash on the first day, but during this stage, it didn't bother me and I was able to attack," Fuglsang said. "I felt really strong and I'm really happy that Luis Leon Sanchez was able to take the lead in the General Classification. Now some challenging days are coming up, let's see if we can continue to stay as strong with this team as we were today."
Following Wednesday's time trial, there are daily opportunities for the GC men to carve out time, with a short, sharp climb of the Cote de la Marquise coming in the final 15km before the finish of stage 5 in Sisteron, the category 1 Cote de la Colle sur Loup inside 10km to go on stage 6 to Vence, and the long, steady climb to Valdeblore la Colmaine at 1,500m in altitude on the penultimate day before a fast, technical, hilly finale in Nice on Sunday.