Chris Froome’s roller coaster Vuelta a España took a step in the right direction for the Kenyan-born Briton during stage 18 on Thursday as he both moved into second overall and gained time on race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)
The Team Sky leader may not have his Tour de France race condition, and on some of the key climbing stages like the Lagos de Covadonga, he looked close to throwing in the towel. But the Sky rider has tenaciously hung on each time, and after opening up a gap at the Camperona summit finish on stage 14, on the less difficult Monte Castrove, his surging attack appeared once again to catch Contador on the back foot.
Fabio Aru (Astana) had already gotten clear of the select group of climbers and when Froome made it across, he could not shed the Italian or take the stage win. But 12 seconds gained on the trio of Spanish GC contenders behind - Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) - both enabled Froome to move ahead of Valverde overall, and to close the gap on Contador.
Only three stages remain in the Vuelta, with Friday’s hilly run along the Galician coastline seemingly made for the breakaways. After Froome’s late move, and with both Rodriguez and Valverde seemingly running dangerously close to empty, the question of whether he can stage a last-minute assault on Contador on Saturday’s ascent of Ancares cannot be ruled out.
“There had been many attempts [by other riders to go clear] until I found the right moment to attack,” Froome said at the finish.
“This is another second place but I’ve moved up on the general classification. Given the climb today, I’m very happy with that result.”
Froome has already taken second place overall in the 2011 Vuelta but it is doubtful that he will settle for a second place this time round.