Sitting seventh overall at the Volta a Catalunya after a mountainous stage 3, Alberto Contador was content with his ride and his form Wednesday, but acknowledges that he has a lot of ground to make up yet should he hope to battle for the GC win.
The Trek-Segafredo rider crested La Molina with a small group of GC favourites and crossed the finish line three seconds behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and runner-up Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), on the same time as race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). With four stages left to race, Contador is 1:13 down on the overall leaderboard.
That's exactly the gap BMC had over Trek-Segafredo in the stage 2 team time trial. At an unusually long 41.3km, the TTT was always going to have a huge impact on the race, and so, all things considered, Contador sounded pleased with the current state of affairs after Wednesday's stage.
"I have been well, I have had good sensations, although it has been a stage in which we have gone relatively calm," he said. "It is true that in the last two passes over La Molina they have put a good rhythm on the climb, but it is very little demanding and in many places there was a strong headwind, which made very comfortable to be in the wheel.
"At the final, in the sprint, I tried to make a good finish, but I knew it was a complicated one for me. In addition, we did the last kilometres quite calm and that lets the explosive people take air and they can be faster than me. Now the important thing is to recover and think about tomorrow."
Indeed, punchy Valverde and Martin jumped clear only in the closing moments of the highly controlled final climb, where longer-range attempts like those of Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) and Carlos Verona (Orica-Scott) were quickly reeled in. Finishing just behind the stage winner was more or a less a successful day's outing for Contador, but he needs to actually gain time and preferably some bonus seconds as well to move up the leaderboard. A climber-friendly stage 5 looks to be the best option left.
"There is no doubt, Friday will be the most decisive stage," Contador said. "If the profile corresponds to the reality, it seems that the last climb is really hard and will make differences. Big enough to fight for the GC? It's complicated because there are riders ahead with a lot of time."
With his deficit over a minute and dwindling opportunities to make up ground, Contador will need everything to go his way, but he at least sounds confident that his team will be there for him, saying of their work Wednesday, "Very good, impressive, being around me as always.
"With Jarlinson we wanted to put one more point of intensity, but there was a lot of headwind and it was quite simple to go on the wheel. In the end this punished the legs a little more and that is also a goal."