Team Sky's Simon Gerrans produced a brave effort on the fourth stage of the Paris-Nice, finishing in 18th place on the 173.5km route from Maurs to Mende.
Gerrans came home 53 seconds behind stage winner Alberto Contador, who produced a solo attack on the final climb to seize the race lead.
Tour de France champion Contador finished 10 seconds ahead of fellow Spaniards Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel).
Overnight leader Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) was 12th on the day, losing 44 seconds and his yellow jersey to Contador, who now heads the general classification by 24 seconds from Valverde.
Gerrans is up to 19th overall, 90 seconds adrift of Contador, with Team Sky colleagues Greg Henderson (77th), Dario Cioni (84th) and Geraint Thomas (93rd) also inside the top 100.
A seven-man breakaway went clear early in the day and stayed away from the main pack until just over 11 km from the finish.
The septet of Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Mikel Nieve (Esukaltel), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil), Jean-Marc Marino (Saur Sijasun), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) and Julien Loubet (AG2R) built their lead to more than four-and-a-half minutes at one point.
But their advantage started to dwindle as the final climb approached and they were swallowed up before the category one final ascent of the La Croix-Neuve/Montée Laurent Jalabert.
The race continues on Friday with stage five, covering 157km from Pernes-les-Fontaines to Aix-en-Provence.