Alberto Contador gave another demonstration of his stage racing skills by winning the toughest stage of the Tour of the Basque Country on Wednesday.
The steep Arrate climb decided the stage, with Contador jumping away near the top and staying clear to win alone by nine seconds.
Cadel Evans (Silence) tried to go after Contador, failed to catch him but won the sprint for second ahead of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel).
Contador leads Sanchez by nine seconds in the overall standings, with Evans third in the same time.
With an easier stage on Thursday, the Tour of the Basque Country looks set to be decided in Saturday?s 24km final time trial stage. Contador must be favourite but Evans could stop him taking a second consecutive win.
?For me it is an honor to win here. Arrate is famous in cycling. Here only strong riders can win. I wanted to take as many seconds as possible to have some advantage for the final time trial on Saturday,? Contador said.
?The differences are minimal, but every second counts. The race is still very open. My teammates worked so hard today, I did not want to disappoint them. Be sure that I will try to win the overall classification. This is my last race before a mid-season break. I still want to show some nice things this week.
After his impressive third place on Tuesday?s second stage, Ben swift (Katusha) was 131st, finishing in the main bunch at 18-59. Charly Wegelius (Silence) was 145th in the same time.
Results: Tour of the Basque Country, Stage 3
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 4-16-29
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence Lotto at 9sec
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel ? Euskadi same time
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Team Katusha same time
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre ? N.G.C. at 28secs
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 33secs
7 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne at 36secs
8 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 55secs
9 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Fuji ? Sevetto same time
10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas both same time
131 Ben Swift (GBr) Katusha at 19 minutes
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 11-59-08 hrs
2 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi at 9 seconds
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at same time.
125 Ben Swift (GBr) Katusha at 28-41 minutes
Ben Swift third in Pais Vasco