Trek-Segafredo finished fourth on the day, 1:15 down on the stage-winning Movistar squad. It was a solid ride, but that's a hefty deficit to make up on the likes of Alejandro Valverde in a one-week race.
"I am happy, we have given everything, we have been quite well-organised and we did a good TTT, but we are a long way off our most important rivals," Contador said. "Valverde is 1:15 ahead, which is a lot. Now we have to look at the upcoming stages, starting with La Molina, which is not very hard as an ascent and where there may well be no big differences. Perhaps the time bonuses will be the most important time gaps."
Valverde isn't the only rider standing in Contador's way, as stage 2 runner-up BMC Racing and third-placed Team Sky both have contenders for the overall victory.
"The race has got more complicated because van Garderen and Sky with Froome and Thomas are all ahead," Contador said. "So we'll have to see what we can do."
Nevertheless, Contador is not throwing in the towel just yet, and he sees openings in the days to come, particularly given the way recent editions of the race have played out. The Spaniard was second to Movistar's Nairo Quintana last year by just seven seconds.
"It's not possible to say if these differences are decisive, but in previous years the Volta has been decided by minimal gaps," he said. "These differences can be cut back, and there are five stages left. So we will have to try. I feel good, the team is going well, but we have to congratulate the other teams who have ridden more strongly than we did. Firstly, though, we have to recover and think about tomorrow."
'Minimal gaps' have been a recurring theme for Contador this year. Valverde topped him by a mere second in February's Ruta del Sol, while Team Sky's Sergio Henao bested him by just two seconds at Paris-Nice. It won't be easy clawing back time in Catalunya, but Contador certainly won't be lacking for motivation as he continues to hunt his first GC victory in Trek-Segafredo kit.