Alberto Contador is universally accepted as the finest stage racer in the world at the moment, but now we must consider him a specialist in the short prologue time trials too.

The Spaniard, riding for Astana, was the hottest of hot favourites to win Paris-Nice this week, but few expected him to win yesterday?s 9.3-kilometre stage one in Amilly.

It was, most people thought, too flat, likely to be too windy, and simply not favourable to the best climber in the world.

But from somewhere Contador pulled a ride from the top drawer, beating arguably the finest pursuit rider the world has ever seen by seven seconds.

Bradley Wiggins looked to have the stage in the bag as the late starters hit the course. At the finish only the other specialists, Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse d?Epargne and Tony Martin of Columbia got within breathing distance, and they were four seconds off the time set by Wiggins.

That was until Contador cut through the squally rain, employing the high cadence of his new team-mate Lance Armstrong, and looking every bit the 2009 Tour de France champion elect.

On closer inspection, perhaps Contador?s performance was not such a huge surprise, even if it did leave many pundits, including Eurosport?s Sean Kelly it would seem, shaking their heads in amazement.

Contador has never been a prologue specialist, although his results in short time trials in the past three seasons are far from poor. Regularly in the top 10 or 15, he made a breakthrough of sorts in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon last March. Although it wasn?t a prologue, he won the 9.7-kilometre time trial on a lumpy course.

This Paris-Nice prologue, though, was for the purists. Wiggins, whose 4-15 in the 4,000-metre individual pursuit on the track is every bit as impressive as the world record set in the ?Superman? position by Chris Boardman, looked made for victory yesterday.

It is interesting to note that his 4-15 time has rarely been threatened, until last month?s Copenhagen World Cup, when Taylor Phinney, who rides for Lance Armstrong?s Trek-LiveStrong development squad, pushed it close.

The fact Wiggins did not emerge from the Garmin-Slipstream bus to speak to the press indicated the level of disappointment at being beaten by Contador.

SIGN OF THINGS TO COME

So now we are in no doubt. The storyline of the season is going to be the power struggle within Astana, and at this rate, Armstrong is going to have to be very good indeed if he is going to challenge Contador for superiority.

Already the best climber in the world, he?s also the best stage racer. So far this season, he?s won the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal, little more than a training race, but a statement of intent no less, because it was a little reminder to Armstrong.

Barring a crash or a mishap in the crosswinds, Contador is on course to win Paris-Nice for the second time in his career, marking Astana?s return to France and ASO?s events after 18 months with a victory.

Contador?s stage racing record is formidable. He has won all five of the last five stage races he?s started, stretching back to the Vuelta Castilla y Leon almost a year ago.

It looks very much like Astana are going to share the stage race honours among themselves this year.

And when it comes to the Tour de France in July, it?s going to be very difficult to prevent Contador from getting off to a flying start. Our sister magazine Cycle Sport checked out the course for the opening time trial in Monaco with Saxo Bank directeur sportif Bradley McGee last year, and the route couldn?t have been tailored to fit Contador more snugly.

CONTADOR?S SHORT TT RESULTS

We look back at Alberto Contador?s results in time trials that were 10 kilometres or shorter in the past three seasons.

2006

Paris-Nice

4.8km (prologue)

4th ? 3sec behind winner Bobby Julich

Criterium International

8.3km (stage three)

8th ? 14sec behind Jose Alberto Martinez

Tour of Romandy

3.4km (prologue)

27th ? 12sec behind Paolo Savoldelli

2007

Paris-Nice


4.7km (prologue)

5th ? 2sec behind David Millar

Vuelta Castilla y Leon

10km (stage one)

5th ? 6sec behind Vladimir Karpets

Dauphiné Libéré

4.2km (prologue)

18th ? 8sec behind Bradley Wiggins

Tour de France

7.9km (prologue)

15th ? 35sec behind Fabian Cancellara

2008

Vuelta Castilla y Leon


9.7km (stage 5)

1st

2009

Paris-Nice


9.3km (stage one)

1st

CONTADOR?S STAGE RACE STREAK

2009

1st ? Tour of the Algarve (February)

2008

1st ? Vuelta a Espana (September)

1st ? Giro d?Italia (May)

1st ? Tour of the Basque Country (April)

1st ? Vuelta Castilla y Leon (March)

3rd ? Tour of Murcia (March)

6th ? Tour of Valencia (February)

2007

19th ? Tour of Missouri (September)

1st ? Tour de France (July)

6th ? Dauphiné Libéré (June)

14th ? Tour of the Basque Country (April)

1st ? Vuelta Castilla y Leon (March)

1st ? Paris-Nice (March)

40th ? Tour of Valencia (February)


PARIS-NICE 2009

Stage reports

Prologue: Contador wins, Wiggins second

Latest news/features

Prologue analysis: Contador the unstoppable?

The Big Preview: Paris-Nice 2009

Fleeman to ride Paris-Nice

Why Paris-Nice 2008 was simply a great race

Photo galleries

Prologue photo gallery, by Graham Watson

Paris-Nice 2008 photo gallery

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