As Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) claimed his third stage win of the Vuelta and opened up his overall advantage on the race’s first full high mountain stage, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) says that he is no longer looking at Chris Froome (Sky) as the chief dangerman. Instead - logically - it is now Rodríguez whom he views as his greatest rival for the red jersey in Madrid.
“Froome?” Contador said when asked what he thought of the Briton’s chances of challenging. “For now I’m not thinking about him any more.”
“Froome is secondary to Purito for me from now on, because I’ve got to think about the riders I’ve got ahead of me overall, not those behind.”
A sign that, encouragingly for the race, is despite Rodríguez strong performance on the Ancares climb, Contador is not wiling to play a defensive game and settle just yet. Instead, he is still going all out for victory.
Contador drew encouragement from the fact that he and Rodríguez could outpace the rest of the field.
However - as he had also admitted - it is now surely more important whether Contador can finally dislodge the Katusha rider, not the Briton. Froome has lost time for a fourth consecutive crucial stage (the time trial and the last three mountaintop finishes) and Valverde seems unable to match either his or Rodriguez’ attacks. Rather he continues to race at his own pace and then claws his way back into contention.
Nor can there be any doubt that - finally - Contador has opted for open war. For the first time in the race, Saxo Bank controlled events from the start of the stage, and then made prolonged drives on the second last and final climb. It all indicated that when the Spaniard said before today’s stage that “the Vuelta starts here,” he wasn’t exaggerating.
“We wanted to toughen up the race as much as possible,” Contador said, “and we could get some time differences. But Joaquim was very strong, I didn’t expect him to get back to that last attack of mine, but when he did, I knew that in that final kilometre it would be difficult to gain time on him.”
“What I’m pleased about is that my legs felt good even though it was a tough day. Now there are three stages left to try and do it.” - Lagos, Cuito Negru and the Bola del Mundo.
But when asked which one would be the most important, Contador smiled and said, “I’ll tell after the race is over.”
Valverde was adamant that of the top four riders, however, that “Purito is the strongest of all of us, his form is the best. I’m pleased because the podium is still my big objective and I’m on target, my form felt good, I have to be pleased.”
“However, it’s Purito who is looking the most likely to win.”