Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) won stage three of Paris-Nice from the breakaway to move into the overall lead.
The 24-year-old American, who enjoyed a fine 2012 campaign, winning the Tour de l’Ain before finishing second behind Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de Romandie and seventh overall in the Vuelta a Espana, edged out Davide Malacarne (Europcar) and Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to claim victory.
The seven-rider breakaway group also included Team Sky duo Richie Porte and David Lopez, who move up to seventh and ninth overall respectively.
Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Sébastien Minard (Ag2r La Mondiale) , Mads Christensen (SaxoBank-Tinkoff) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun) initially formed the day’s break early on the 170.5km stage from Châtel-Guyon to Brioude and the quartet gained a four minute advantage over the peloton.
After a prologue and two flat stages, stage three provided the general classification contenders with the first opportunity to come to the fore thanks to a lumpy, if not mountainous, parcours.
Elia Viviani led the overall classification at the start of the day and his Cannondale team-mate were joined by Astana, Team Sky and, preparing for the forthcoming Classics season, Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Tom Boonen as the peloton looked to reel in the escapees.
The four leaders were caught ahead of the day’s final climb, the category two ascent of the Cote de Mauvagnat, and Viviani then dropped out of the back of the peloton, with British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke and Spanish team-mate Xavier Zandio setting the pace for Sky.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) attacked on the descent with Vasili Kiriyenka (Team Sky), who then crashed, but Porte and Lopez bridged the gap along with Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Talansky, Malacarne and Izaguirre.
The group fought hard to maintain a slender advantage over the 22-rider chasing group, with the gap dropping to as little as five seconds before stretching out again as the finish approached.
Malacarne was the first to make his move, attacking under the flamme rouge, but the group reunited before Bardet initiated the sprint, only to see Talansky and co surge past him.
Stage four will see the peloton scale seven categorised climbs on the 199.5km ride from Brioude to Saint-Vallier.
Paris-Nice 2013 – stage three – result
1) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp – 4:06:15 hours
2) Davide Malacarne (ITA) – Europcar – same time
3) Gorka Izaguirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
4) David Lopez (SPA) – Team Sky
5) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky
6) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale
7) Andriy Grivko (UKR) – Astana
8) Jonathan Hivert (FRA) Sojasun +7″
9) Enrico Gasparotto (ITA) – Astana – same time
10) Maxime Bouet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale
1) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp – 14:39:36 hours
2) Andriy Grivko (UKR) – Astana +3″
3) Davide Malacarne (ITA) – Europcar – same time
4) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +4″
5) Gorka Izaguirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +5″
6) Lieuwe Westra (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM +6″
7) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +7″
8) Peter Velits (SVK) – Omega PharmaQuickStep +8″
9) David Lopez (SPA) – Team Sky +9″
10) Jonathan Hivert (FRA) – Sojasun +12″