Slovenian Janez Brajkovic confidently countered a series of attacks from Tour de France champion Alberto Contador to keep the race leader's yellow jersey at the Dauphine Criterium on Thursday.
Frenchman Nicolas Vogondy of the Bbox-Bouygues team belied his reputation as a non-climber to claim a well-deserved stage win on what was the first day of four in the French Alps.
With 1.7km to race in the 12.8km climb to Risoul ski station, Vogondy timed a late drive to perfection as Brajkovic contented himself with keeping close tabs on Contador in the Frenchman's wake.
At least two French teams, notably Française des Jeux and Cofidis, had been expected to spark life into the climb towards Risoul, which was hosting its first ever professional road race stage.
Cofidis had analysed the climb while FDJ's main climber Remy di Gregorio was expected to try and convince his bosses he is worthy of a place on the Tour de France.
Both Cofidis and Di Gregorio failed to deliver, and after a series of skirmishes inside the final five kilometres, Vogondy became the unlikely hero.
His win comes only two months after he was given back his racing licence following the discovery of a heart problem.
"I've been the French champion twice but to win at the Dauphine - the champions who are here, Contador, Brajkovic, (Samuel) Sanchez, who is the Olympic champion, it's just something else," he said.
"It's like a dream. This is crazy. I don't know what to say. I only got my racing licence back a couple of months ago after going in for more extensive scans."
Brajkovic, who is bidding for a place in RadioShack's Tour de France team, took the race lead after a stunning time trial ride over 49km on Wednesday.
And after a confident ride up the first real climb of this week's race he still leads Contador, who is in third place just behind American Tejay Van Garderen, by 1min 41sec.
Britain's David Millar, of Garmin-Transitions, started the day only 36sec behind Brajkovic but the big Scot failed to keep up when the pace rose on the climb to Risoul and dropped from second to fourth overall at 1:56.
Contador, who lost the race lead after a sixth-place finish on stage four, is racing at the Dauphine primarily to top up his form for the Tour de France.
And he insisted his accelerations inside the final 3km, where the headwind proved a major handicap, were designed simply to test himself.
"On the final climb I was waiting and waiting for people to attack but nothing was happening. When I pulled away I wanted to just test myself," he said.
"It was a complicated climb, and made harder by the fact there was a headwind. Following someone's wheel was fine, but attacking solo was a different affair."
Now, the onus will be on RadioShack to help Brajkovic defend his lead in the coming days.
Friday's fifth stage is a 143.5km ride from Serre-Chevalier to Grenoble and kicks off with a 15.5km climb to the summit of the Col du Lautaret, with the 17.5km climb over Chamrousse coming later in the stage.
© AFP 2010
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