Slovenian Grega Bole took a step towards securing an unexpected spot on next month's Tour de France by claiming the first stage of the Dauphine Criterium here on Monday.
Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, of Astana, retained the race leader's yellow jersey after 191km of racing over rolling terrain from Evian-les-Bains.
But as the Spaniard awaits a 49km time trial on stage three and a further four days of testing his condition in the Alps, Bole stole the show on the first of only two days that have been set aside for non-climbers.
Britain's Geraint Thomas almost handed his Sky team the perfect start to the week-long event after emerging from the front of a small group of riders as they drove hard in the final 500m before the finish line .
However Bole timed his final drive to perfection, pulling past Thomas in the final 50 metres and holding off a late surge from HTC-Columbia's Slovakian sprinter Peter Velits.
Bole had shown his potential on the first stage of this year's Paris-Nice when he finished runner-up to Kiwi Greg Henderson.
The next day, the Slovenian was forced out after a crash in the final 500 metres left him with two broken ribs and an eventual six-week layoff which only ended last week.
"I'm so happy to have won my first race at Pro Tour level, I can't describe it," said Bole, the latest in a steady line of Slovenians to have joined the Italian team.
"I had six weeks off the bike after my crash at Paris-Nice, where I broke two ribs. I spent most of that time in bed, but I've come back little by little and I've come into this race with great legs."
Contador started the first stage of this key Tour de France warm-up with the race lead after winning the 6.8km prologue on Sunday. And the Spaniard was given a relatively easy first day of racing in south-east France after the peloton allowed a five-man breakaway to form after just 13km of racing and go on to build a maximum lead of 8min 40sec.
Their bid to stay away evaporated on the final climb of the day, which seemed to snag the aims of the real sprinters, and a series of attacks came and went on the final descent towards the finish.
Thomas had pulled away convincingly in the final 100 metres but that was without counting on the top end speed of Bole, who surged past him in timely fashion to secure the win.
Already valued for adapting his skills to different types of terrain, Bole is now hoping to get the nod for next month's Tour de France where he could be called upon to help Lampre's main sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.
It seems someone, however, forgot to tell him about the mountain climbs on the three-week epic.
"I'm not 100 percent certain yet, but I think I will be going to the Tour," said Bole.
"I'll try (to win) again tomorrow (Tuesday), but after that there's little chance. To be honest I'm a little afraid ahead of the mountain stages in the final days of the race!"
© AFP 2010
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