The Spanish veteran started strongly on the technical 37 kilometre time trial course before falling off the pace a little at the end and finishing eighth, nearly two minutes down on winner Chris Froome (Team Sky).
What was a 25 second deficit to Froome has now ballooned to over two minutes, whilst his gap to race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 19 seconds down on Contador in the time trial, now stands at 3:43.
But with the third place overall looking increasingly certain after Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) lost more than a minute on Contador and slipped to fourth on GC, far from riding defensively - as Nairo Quintana has said he will do - Contador says he is now looking to go on the attack again on the Aitana stage.
“It’s a real shame that things went so badly early on in the Vuelta,” Contador said, “but in any case, there’s no point in having any regrets.
“My time trial went well today, particularly the first part” - and this despite getting blasted by a wave of sand thrown up by the wind as he rocketed along the coastline.
“Then I started to feel the distance and I didn’t keep a steady pace, I was changing my rhythm constantly and I paid for that,” he recognised.
“In any case, on Aitana I’ll try something, that’s for sure.”
As for whether Froome can win the Vuelta, Contador said, “He’s done a great time trial. Maybe he’s still got a chance, but it’s clear he’ll have to shake things up a lot on Saturday’s stage.”