By Bjorn Haake
Christian Vande Velde won Wednesday's stage four of Paris-Nice into Saint-Étienne with a solo ride over the last 20 kilometres. The Garmin-Slipstream leader held off Alberto Contador and the other race favourites to win alone for the first time in his career.
The day after Vande Velde was feeling already great again. "The sun is out, that helps," he told Cyclingnews. But he also admitted the early start of stage five (10:40) for the longest day of the race (204km) made for a short recovery. "I didn't sleep too well last night."
Despite yesterday's efforts, the American is still aiming to slip into another break. He has no ambitions for the overall classification, where he already lost time during the opening time trial due to a crash and on stage three.
He attacked when the lead group was losing time. "The peloton was at about 35 seconds. I didn't hear that there was another group coming up." Three Frenchman – Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) and Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel) – had countered and were closing in on the lead group with Vande Velde.
"I saw that our group was slowing down. I took a strong pull through a few turns, past a church, and saw that I got a gap." He kept the pressure on over a little railroad bridge and quickly extended the lead between himself and the rest of his breakaway companions.
He then just tried to keep it steady over the final climb of the day, the five-kilometre long Côte de la Rochetaillée. His directeur sportif informed him that Contador (Astana) attacked out of the peloton on the climb. "That made me a bit nervous."
Vande Velde went over the top with around 20 seconds, but on the descent the info from the team car didn't come through clearly due to the high speeds of 70km/h.
He finished 14 seconds ahead of his rivals and enjoyed a victory salute dedicated to his daughter Madeline, who was born last month. "I have only seen my daughter for about a week."