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Alberto Contador was all smiles at the start
Contador looks to fend off Caisse d'Epargne charge
At just 119km in length and with three category one climbs: the Col de la Porte, La Turbie and the final ascent, the Col d'Eze, the conclusion to the 68th Paris-Nice promises to be an exciting battle from start to finish between a trio of Spaniards at the top of the general classification.
It's been one of the fastest editions of the race in history, and the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice was no different - the peloton tackled the 220km day in just 5 hours, averaging 43.7kilometres per hour.
The favourites took a measured approach to the day in order to save their energies to what will be an all-out war on tomorrow's final stage. Behind stage winner Xavier Tondo (Cervelo), they waited until the final moments to show themselves at the front of the race, with Alejandro Valverde sprinting to second place on the stage to get a six second time bonus.
Aside from best young rider Roman Kreuziger who sits in third overall, the race now looks to be an all-Spanish battle between race leader Alberto Contador, teammates Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez and perhaps even Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, all of whom are within 30 seconds of each other.
With that in mind, Contador allowed his Astana squad to take a bit of a break today, relying on the Garmin-Transitions, Caisse d'Epargne and Liquigas teams to help control a large breakaway which escaped on the second climb of the 220km stage to Tourrettes-sur-Loup.
"At the end they were more interested than me in winning," said Contador of his Spanish rivals Valverde and last year's race winner, Luis Leon Sanchez, both of Caisse d'Epargne.
"Both Luis Leon and Valverde are very close on GC and have a very powerful team. I'm also here to win, but I know how I am and how my team is and I cannot take responsibility for the entire race."
After having crashed earlier in the week, Contador said his legs have finally come around, just in time for what will be an important showdown tomorrow, which he predicts will be very fast.
"I know the route very well because I've almost always used it to attack. This time I will approach it differently, but we'll see how everything goes. For now I'll rest in order to be at the best possible condition tomorrow."
Second place on the stage today and for the second time this week, Alejandro Valverde moved closer to the lead of Contador, and now sits just 14 seconds in arrears with Czech rider Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas in third, 9 further seconds back.
"Every day I am very close and that shows how good I feel, but there is a little something missing every day to give me the possibility to raise my arms," said Valverde.
"The job my team is doing every day is incredible, too and it is really a pity not to be able to win something, but there is one stage left to go and tomorrow anything can happen. I hope to recover very well tonight and tomorrow I shall fight until the race is finished."
Luis Leon Sanchez was disappointed that his team has yet to win a stage or lead the general classification despite plenty of hard work from the Caisse d'Epargne squad.
"My teammates are doing such a great job that they really deserve to be thanked with a stage victory or a first place in the general classification, but we until now we have not been able to do it."
"We will have one more opportunity tomorrow, but considering how fast all the stages are since we started from Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines it is really difficult to impose our tactics and it will probably be the same tomorrow."
"We have to believe it is possible, and tomorrow we will try again to win the stage and also to win the final classification."