Alberto Contador's victory at the top of the 'montée Laurent Jalabert' in Mende was a repeat performance of three years ago when he first claimed Paris-Nice overall. Yet even after donning the race leader's yellow jersey, the Astana rider was only partly satisfied with his performance.
"I wanted to win here because of the time bonus but also to create a significant difference on my adversaries," Contador said. "That's why I tried to attack from far out."
While he rode away from everybody with 1.6km to go to the top of the climb, he only preceded his compatriots Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez by ten seconds at the line.
Today, the top 10 riders finished within 30 seconds of each other, while three years ago there were 40 seconds between Contador and Franco Pellizotti who got 10th, but Contador didn't see this as a significant improvement in the peloton.
"I don't think the level of the GC contenders is higher this time," Contador answered Cyclingnews. "Every year the level of Paris-Nice is very high. There are always strong climbers but this time around, there are also rouleurs like Jens Voigt who threaten my lead."
The double winner of the Tour de France said "no!" when asked whether or not Paris-Nice was over with three days to go. "It's the exact opposite," he replied. "We only begin now. It's even more difficult for me to win the GC now being the leader of the classification. My team is strong but it's hard to control such a race."
In 2007, he was second behind Davide Rebellin after the uphill stage finish in Mende. He only overtook the Italian towards the end of the last stage in Nice.
"I had some doubts about my rivals before today's stage and it remains open," Contador continued. "As for myself, I felt good but not super. I didn't feel good at the bottom of the final climb. I had to fight hard for position." A crash on stage 1 gave the Spaniard a bruise on his thigh, so perhaps he has yet to reach his best level.