The key stage of this year's race may come on the final day with the summit finish at Lagunas de Neila, but the Spaniard isn't hanging around, and made use of a third-category ascent on Thursday's stage 3 to embark on a spontaneous attack and see how his form has progressed since his early exit from the Tour de France last month.
"Going up the Retuerta I saw that another rider [Kenny Eilssonde] attacked. I was very well positioned and went off after him - the truth is I don't even know why," explained Contador. "In fact when I went off I thought 'why am I attacking?"
A couple more riders bridged over and they consolidated their advantage on the descent but we unable to prevent the peloton coming back together on the flat with 11km to go, whereupon Danny van Poppel struck out for his second sprint victory of the race.
"I didn't expect them to come so fast from behind. I saw Gianluca [Brambilla] pass me, so I wanted to collaborate with them to go together but there was no collaboration. There was a lot of people behind, so it was complicated," added Contador.
In any case, the Tinkoff rider was able to test his legs and see how they're responding after a trying month of July. He crashed twice on the opening two stages of the Tour de France and was forced to abandon the race in the Pyrenees as he succumbed to illness. Having pulled out of the Olympic Games, the Vuelta a España now represents his major objective in what remains of the season.
"My legs feel good, although I could have made a bit more difference. Today was a day of tough work, 200km and I'm satisfied. The first and last climbs were very fast and I feel in very good shape," said the 33-year-old.
"It was a good day overall for my preparation towards the Vuelta."