It may be that Chris Froome (Sky) is finally showing signs of a long season, after again losing time to the top three contenders during stage 16 at the Vueltla a España. Froome was clearly struggling on the final climb of the day, the 23.5km Cuitu Negru that has sections over 25%. The Sky leader lost contact with race leader Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha), coming across the line in 14th place and now lies in 4th overall, 4:52 behind Rodríquez.
"That was such a hard climb," said Froome on TeamSky.com. "I’m struggling to think about what I can compare it to. There are not many stages that you do which finish up a climb that is 20km long and the last 4km is an average of almost 20%. I don’t think the screen or TV can do that justice. It really is a gruelling climb.
"There was a stage with about 150 metres to go where I looked at the ramp ahead of me and thought ‘I might have to walk up there’!
"It’s tough to look at other guys and think about trying to stay on the wheel. I just tried to ride my own speed up there and survive as best I could.
"We have a rest day coming up tomorrow and we’re ready for the last week. The hardest part of the race is probably behind us now I think and it’s just day by day now [to] Madrid. I'm giving it everything and we'll see where that puts me after three weeks," said Froome.
After winning a stage and finishing second overall at the Tour de France, it seems that fatigue may be getting the better of Froome who also rode the Olympic road race and time trial before lining up at the Vuelta.
"Chris was hanging on behind but it was about limiting his losses and setting a tempo. He gave it everything and did a really consistent ride. Sergio also did a really good job to help Froomey on the climb. It was tough for Richie to puncture just before the climb. That’s the worst possible moment," said Sky’s director sportif Nicolas Portal.
"Everyone on the team is looking forward to the rest day now and we are getting closer to Madrid," he said.