Yates made his move on the climb-filled stage from a lead group of around 25 riders just before the summit of the second pass of the Col de Bourigaille with 18 kilomeres left to go. The remnants of the day's eight-man escape group – Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) – had been caught just a couple of kilometres before.
None of the main favourites reacted to Yates's move, including race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors). As Yates crested the climb and hit the twisting descent, he quickly built up a significant lead.
Despite a concerted chase behind from the favourites' group led by Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) – working for Sergio Henao – and Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) – working for Richie Porte – Yates continued to gain time.
By the base of the final 1.3km climb to Fayence, Yates had 45 seconds in hand.
As the chasers hit the climb, Porte was the first to attack, dragging Alaphilippe with him and with Henao in close attendance.
Porte and Alaphilippe faded as they reached the steepest section of the ascent, and were passed by Henao, who accelerated ahead – but it was too late for the Colombian national champion to overhaul Yates, as the British rider crossed the line with his hands in the air.
Henao came home for second place, 17 seconds behind Yates, with Porte settling for third at 26 seconds.
Alaphilippe staged a comeback aided by team-mate Dan Martin to finish in fourth place and retain his position in the yellow jersey. Martin appeared to sacrifice gaining any time for himself, waving Alaphilippe through to take the higher placing.
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) finished in eighth place, at 32 seconds, and now sits seventh overall.
Yates's move means he now moves up to eighth overall, one minute and 37 seconds behind Alaphilippe. Having lost time in the weather-affected opening stages of the race, Yates said after the finish that he had to try something to claw back time.
"I said to myself why not, I have nothing to lose," Yates explained. "If I get caught, I get caught. I tried and it worked.
"It's one of the biggest races to do, one of the hardest. I'm sure happy to win again, my first of the season. I'm still quite far behind [on GC], so it will be hard to take the time back. We'll see what happens."
Yates will not have to wait long for another climbing challenge, as the race hits the highest point in its history on Saturday's stage seven, with a finale atop the first category climb of Col de la Couillole. The 2017 edition of Paris-Nice concludes on Sunday, March 12.
Paris-Nice 2017, stage six: Aubagne to Fayence, 192 km
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, in 4-37-51
2. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 17 secs
3. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, at 26 secs
4. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 29 secs
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
6. Jon Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 32 secs
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
8. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo
9. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin
10. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, all same time
General classification after stage six
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 21-58-22
2. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 36 secs
3. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 46 secs
4. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, at 57 secs
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-20
6. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-31
7. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-34
8. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 1-37
9. Jon Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 2-04
10. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, at 3-08
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