ALTO DE HAZALLANAS, Spain (AFP) - Alberto Contador took a firm grip of the Ruta del Sol in Andalusia after claiming victory on the third stage on Friday to extend his overall lead over Chris Froome to 27 seconds.
The 157.6km stage from Motril to Alto de Hazallanas was the first summit finish for either Contador or Froome this season and just like in the Vuelta a Espana last September, the Spaniard was too strong for the 2013 Tour de France winner.
Contador announced his intention to retire at the end of 2016 season earlier this week, but wants to become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same season before he bows out.
And the 32-year-old looked in fine fettle as he broke clear at the start of the steep eight kilometre climb to the finish to leave the competition in his wake and seal victory in 4hr 19min 16sec.
"I am very happy for the team and myself," said Contador.
"It was an important stage and I didn't want to let it go by without trying to win it.
"We have worked very hard over the winter to make sure we don't miss out on anything, although there are very good riders in this race."
Froome wasn't even in the initial chasing group when Contador attacked, but got stronger as the climb went on to finish 19 seconds behind in second.
"Obviously, it's hard getting beaten and hard coming second to Alberto," Froome told Team Sky's website.
"My objective is to be really good later on in the season, building towards the Tour in the next few months. Alberto's race programme is ahead of mine with the Giro set to be his first big target of the year.
"I'm really happy with where I'm at right now. There's a lot of headway to make but there's plenty more to come, and this is a great place for me to begin the season."
France's Romain Bardet was third, a further 1min 22sec back.
Second place was also enough to move Froome up to second in the general classification, 1min 32sec ahead of Benat Intxausti.
Saturday's fourth and penultimate stage also includes a summit finish at the end of a 199.8km ride from Maracena to Alto de las Allanadas.