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Alberto Contador of Spain is all smiles as he crosses the finish line to win the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday in Switzerland. ((Laurent Rebours/Associated Press))

Spain's Alberto Contador won a showdown with American Lance Armstrong on Sunday, capturing the yellow jersey with a dominating victory in the first Alpine stage of the Tour de France.

Armstrong moved up to second place in the standings after the 15th stage. But he lost time to his Astana teammate, who took control of the race in ending Rinaldo Nocentini's eight-day run in the overall lead.

The 26-year-old Spaniard broke away from other pre-race favourites with 5.6 kilometres left in the 207.5-kilometre ride from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier — and kept extending his lead through to the finish.

"I'm very happy with this result. The climb wasn't that long but I wanted to make a difference," said Contador, who looked fresh and tapped his chest as he finished. "I gave the maximum."

Contador — the 2007 Tour winner — came into Sunday's stage third overall, six seconds behind Nocentini. He finished in five hours three minutes 58 seconds and the Italian trailed 2:36 back.

Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was second, 43 seconds back, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was third, 1:03 back.

Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal finished 44th in Sunday's stage and stands 57th in the overall standings, 36:19 behind Contador.

Armstrong, who had entered the day fourth overall and eight seconds behind Nocentini, finished ninth, 1:35 behind the Spaniard.

More importantly, the seven-time Tour champion trails Contador by 1:37 in the overall standings. Bradley Wiggins of Britain climbed from sixth place to third, 1:46 back of the Spaniard.

Contador's edge confirmed

Armstrong's rivalry with his Astana teammate Contador, on ice during last week's mostly flat stages, was set to reignite in Verbier.

Contador said Sunday's result left no doubt about who should be considered the Astana team leader.

"The differences now are pretty big, and the team's bet should now be me, no?" Contador said. "I'm sure my teammates are going to put in great work to back me up just like they did today."

Armstrong conceded that Contador had been superior.

"I think when Alberto went, he showed he's the best rider in the race, certainly the best climber.… Hats off to him," Armstrong said.

The American vowed that he would not go against team orders and attack Contador later in the race.

"That's not going to happen," he said. "There's been a lot of drama between Alberto and me … but at the end of the day we sit as a team."

Sunday's ride was the first of three stages in the Alps, and the only one of those with an uphill finish. The 8.8-kilometre ascent from the valley up to Verbier was the first time that the Tour has visited the ski station.

Riders get a rest day Monday before the two other Alpine stages, an individual time trial in Annecy on Thursday, and a ride up the dreaded Mont Ventoux on Saturday.

The Tour ends Sunday in Paris.