(CNN) -- Christian Vandevelde of the United States claimed Wednesday's fourth stage of the Paris-Nice while Astana's Alberto Contador showed just why he is the race favorite in the early season classic.
American Vandevelde triumphed by 14 seconds after pulling clear on the fourth stage of the Paris-Nice race.
Garmin's Vandevelde pulled clear of a small breakaway group in the later stages of the 173.5 kilometer leg from Vichy to Saint Etienne and crossed the line 14 seconds clear of a chasing group containing Contador.
The Spaniard had stretched his legs on a third category climb approaching the finish and quickly opened a significant gap over the other main contenders,
He was reeled in by a small group on the descent, but made up time on home rider Sylvain Chavanel, who hung on to the overall race lead after his stage win of the previous day.
Vandevelde clocked four hours one minute 31 seconds and was followed over the line by Jonathan Hivert of France and Italian Mirco Lorenzetto.
Quick Step's Chavanel told Eurosport he did not have the form to follow Contador and was content to finish in the third group.
"It's a difficult race," he said. "I put in a big effort yesterday and was a little tired."
Juan Manuel Garate of the Rabobank team is Chavanel's closest challenger overall, but Contador has moved up to fourth at 36 seconds with several tough stages to come before the finish of the "Race to the Sun" on Sunday.
Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion, is set to join forces with new teammate Lance Armstrong as both bid for the yellow jersey this summer.
Armstrong, who impressed in the Tour of California won by another Astana strongman Levi Leipheimer, is not riding Paris-Nice as he builds up to May's Giro d'Italia.
Cofidis rider Julien El Fares took the opening stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico race on Wednesday when he outsprinted Vladimir Duma of the Ukraine after the 147-kilometer ride from Cecina to Capannori.
Frenchman El Fares and Duma clocked three hours 34 three minutes three seconds as they finished 12 seconds clear of Italian duo Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi with Quick Step rider Tom Boonen fifth in the same time.
Thursday's 177-km second stage takes the riders from Volterra to Marina di Carrara.