By Jean-François Quénet in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde powered to the win in the 31-kilometre stage three time trial, putting in a stunning performance to beat Levi Leipheimer (Astana). Valverde excelled in the difficult and rainy time trial, taking 19 seconds out of the American. Silence Lotto's Cadel Evans was runner up by one slim second. The Australian took no risks in the slippery conditions. The ride pulled Valverde into the lead in the overall classification, where he now sits 23 seconds ahead of Leipheimer.
The time trial was raced around Saint-Paul-en-Jarez and featured two climbs, a third category up Chavanol and a fourth category up Doizieu. With his stage win, the Murcian Caisse d'Epargne racer took over the general classification lead of the French race from Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole).
"This morning I went together with Oscar Pereiro to train on the course, and we were really surprised when we discovered how difficult it was," said Valverde. "But for me it was better like that because the first twenty kilometres looked more like a mountain time trial and after that the downhill was a very technical one, and that is more in my advantage."
With his significant win, Valverde took charge of this year's event. "It was a very, very hard course," the Spaniard said. "Our directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois went to see it yesterday and described it as hard but when I saw it this morning, it appeared to be even harder. The rain made it slippery and very complicated.
"I have been feeling very good since the prologue, and I really believe that I am doing well in my preparation for the Tour de France," said Valverde. "Now that we have the yellow jersey it is obvious that we will try to defend it. It will not be easy because we have very good rivals here and the mountain stages are still to come."