Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) made a huge leap up the overall classification as he moved from ninth to fifth overall at the Vuelta a Espana with an impressive time trial performance on Tuesday. He still remains more than two minutes adrift of the final podium spot controlled by Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb), and the three-time champion says that making the podium in the final race of his career will be tough to do.
"I think I did a good time trial, but after today I think reaching the podium will be very difficult," explained Contador.
Contador finished 59 seconds down on stage winner and race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), equal on time with Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) while giving away some seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb).
When he crossed the line, he had the fastest time, and it would take Kelderman to push him off his perch. Contador said afterward that he had opted not to race the stage by numbers but by feel. He admitted that it hadn't been his best performance against the clock.
"I didn't have the split times of my rivals; I covered my SRM and preferred to ride only on my sensations. I don't think it was the best time trial I have done in the last years - even recently I have done better, like my time trial at the Tour de France," said Contador.
"There were some riders who were superior: Kelderman and of course Froome. We knew that Froome was the big favourite for today; I think today's time trial suited him down to the ground."
Why change a habit of a lifetime? As he did in the time trial and many other days before it, Contador is going to listen to what his body tells him in the final stages of the Vuelta a Espana.
"I will be riding on the base of my sensations, from moment to moment," he said when asked if he would attack in Wednesday's mountain stage to Los Machucos. "There are five nice stages to come, and I will continue to enjoy this race, including the stage to Madrid, which will be very special as it will be my goodbye race."
The chances to do gain ground are ever diminishing, and the make-up of the top 10 looks increasingly certain, with more than three minutes separating 10th and 11th places. The order in which the top 10 comes home and even the complexion of the podium is still far from a foregone conclusion. While Contador is coy on whether or not he will attack in the next few stages, he is expecting his rivals to put up a fight.
"I think a lot of things will happen in the next days; there'll be a lot of movement. There are riders who will make another move, like Lopez who will surely be on the attack," Contador said. "I think tomorrow will be very hard for everyone giving the difficulty of the climbs, and the ramps on Los Machucos."