Sanchez won the second stage of the Volta ao Algarve in southern Portugal, seizing the overall leader's yellow jersey in the process.
The Astana rider triumphed on the summit finish, 902 metres up at the Alto da Foia, beating Geraint Thomas of Sky by a single second with Primoz Roglic third for Lotto NL-Jumbo.
Those three lead the general classification, in the same order, with Sanchez five seconds ahead of Thomas and nine seconds clear of Roglic.
“I’m super happy for today victory in front of so many super strong rivals," Sanchez said. “I knew my condition was good but I didn’t know how I could perform on an uphill finish like this.
"When Thomas attacked I was looking at Contador waiting for his reply. The wind was so strong on our left but I had good legs. Then I decided to reply myself and I had been able to overtake Thomas and win this difficult stage”.
But it was Contador providing the interest for many as he looks for signs of early progress for the season goals to come.
The Tinkoff leader admitted that he miscalculated his work load in the wind which may have come at a cost in the finale.
"It was a complicated and quite hard stage. We wanted to keep the breakaway under control in order to fight for the stage but, in hindsight, it was probably an error to stay in the front throughout the day under such windy conditions. We probably spent more energy than necessary," Contador said.
“In the penultimate climb, I tried to make the race a bit harder because the group was quite big but it was difficult to break the race with so much wind. There are riders with better legs here because they already have races under their belts.
"However, the Volta ao Algarve serves as a preparation towards Paris-Nice, where my goal is to have a good result. The sensations I have are what I expected. The work we carried out in Tenerife focused on building force and what I lack is race rhythm. That's precisely what I'm here for".
Friday's third stage is an 18km time-trial in Sagres.
"Tomorrow, we will tackle a time-trial and although it will be long and flat, it will be a very useful training towards my upcoming objectives," Contador said.