What a year for the American cyclists at Paris-Nice so far.
Landis, who finished 9th in the 2005 Tour de France, took over the lead after joining a breakaway with stage winner Patxi Vila Errandonea, a Spaniard, in the last 12 miles of the 104-mile stage to St. Etienne.
The leader of the Swiss Phonak team, Landis took the leader's yellow and white jersey from Belgium's Tom Boonen, who had won the previous two stages.
Landis and Errandonea attacked on the final climb of the day, the Category 1 Col de la Croix-de-Chaubouret, a 6.5% average gradient climb for more than 6 miles. It was Errandonea's first-ever pro victory.
Landis now leads by 9 seconds over Errandonea; 3rd place Samuel Sanchez is 1 minute 13 seconds behind. The next highest US rider is Chris Horner (Davitamon) in 11th at 1:43 behind; Julich dropped to 52nd, more than 8 minutes behind.
Thursday's 119-mile 4th stage starts with a Category 1 climb Col de la Republique on its way south to Rasteau. Phonak team manager told CyclingNews that controlling the race will be a challenge as the team is reduced to 6 cyclists, although 4 helped Landis protect his Tour of California lead two weeks ago.
Landis, 30, born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, lives in San Diego now. He first came to prominence as one of Lance Armstrong's domestiques on the US Postal Team, often seen powering Armstrong over mountain passes.