Chris Froome (Sky) rolled across the finish line of stage nine at the Vuelta a España at the tail end of a reduced peloton, 12 seconds down on race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). Froome, flanked by his teammate Sergio Henao appeared exhausted by the aggressive finale, his head dropping toward his handlebars at the end of a tough stage.
"Froome finished with the main group so he has kept hold of second place. It was a tough finish today and we know it will be a very big fight over the next two weeks," said sports director Nicolas Portal.
Entering the first rest day, Froome will need to analyse how to reduce his 53 second deficit to Rodríguez over the coming weeks. He will have his first real opportunity during the stage 11 time trial where the Sky rider will look to close the gap and take over the lead from Rodríguez.
Froome remains one of the contenders for the overall win thanks in part to his strength against the clock. The Kenyan-born British rider has managed to hold his brilliant form throughout a heavy program of racing including the Tour de France and the Olympics. Froome finished second overall at the Tour and shortly after contested both the Olympic road race and the time trial - winning the bronze medal behind compatriot Bradley Wiggins and Germany’s Tony Martin.
Sky’s sport’s director Portal understands that with the strength of Froome in the time trial, some of his rivals Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rodríguez will not simply wait for the mountains throughout the next two weeks. Their weakness in the TT means they will seek to gain seconds wherever it’s possible.
"It was a very opportunistic attack from Rodríguez on the climb so well done to him for that. He is looking to take as many seconds as he can at this stage and it is a very open race," said Portal at the end of stage 9.
"We will look forward to the rest day now and spirits are high within the team," he said.