By Jean-François Quénet in Saint-Etienne
The Tour de France stars have been stealing the show at this year's Paris-Nice and leaving few opportunities for up and coming riders to find glory. On Wednesday, it was Christian Vande Velde's turn to shine in Paris-Nice when he won stage four solo. Vande Velde, a proven time trialist from Illinois, finished fourth overall at last year's Tour de France after Bernhard Kohl was disqualified due to doping.
"It's great for me to win here because it's my first time winning by myself with a significant distance over the rest of the field," said Vande Velde after crossing the finish line first. "I wanted to test myself this week, but I had no plan to attack for the win today."
The American found himself in a seven-man breakaway that began at kilometre 67. He was the only one to anticipate the attack of Astana's Alberto Contador with 20km to go.
Vande Velde took a careful approach to winning and rode cautiously on the downhill to Saint-Etienne after cresting the top of the col de Rochetaillée with 6.5km to go and a 20-second advantage over the Spaniard Contador. He hadn't forgotten his crash in the opening time trial of Paris-Nice.
"I was very disappointed on Sunday, and I've lost quite a lot of skin," said Vande Velde, the captain of Garmin-Slipstream.
Vande Velde's first solo road stage win comes at age 33. Although his triumph comes relatively late compared to many cyclists, he appears to be finding the best form of his career. His win Wednesday confirms that his performances of last year's Tour de France and signals more to come this July.