Taking things steadily in his first road race since the Tour de France, Froome finished in seventh place and is lying seventh overall. The Sky rider is clearly not in as such spectacular climbing form as in the Tour de France, when barring earlier attacker Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), the Briton dropped all his overall rivals with devastating ease on the Mur de Huy, that race’s first summit finish. But even so on Sunday of his key rivals, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rodriguez gained a tiny amount of time - four seconds and one second respectively - on the Briton.
“We can be pretty happy as a team, Nicolas [Roche] was up there, so was Sergio [Henao] and Mikel [Nieve], just a little bit behind that, so I think as the first summit finish for the team we can all be pretty happy,” Froome said at the stage three start on Monday in Mijas.
“Myself, personally, I was surprised with how decent the legs felt after not having raced properly since the Tour.”
“We’re looking forward to the rest of the race now, the morale’s high and we’ve still got everything to race for at this point.”
Asked whether he thought the bulk of the general classification riders had been shadowing each other rather than fighting to make an impact early on, Froome, who, encouragingly for Sky seemed to gain strength on the higher slopes of the finish, recognised that some tactical considerations had caused him to go steady.
“There was a lot of marking each other, I wasn’t going to chase with [teammate] Nico Roche up the road, and Valverde wasn’t going to chase with [Nairo] Quintana (Movistar) up the road,” he reasoned.
“It was basically up to Katusha and [Joaquim] Rodriguez and I think they waited a little too long. Rodriguez is in great form and I think we can expect a lot from him in these next few weeks.”
Froome confirmed that Roche’s attack had been a collective decision, saying “I said to him I feel like I need to ride at my own speed here, I need to see how I’m feeling, I’m not going to follow anyone specifically, I gave him the green light to go and he made the most of it.” Nor is firing teammates up the road a strategy which Froome rules out using in the Vuelta again, saying “We’ve got a great team, why not use the numbers?”
Froome was less willing to provide an analysis of Vincenzo Nibali’s exclusion from the Vuelta for accepting a tow from a team car, initially saying “I’ve got no comment on that”.
When it was then put to the Team Sky rider that the Astana rival’s expulsion showed clearly that the UCI regulations concerning such situations were equally applied to all professionals, no matter their status, Froome answered briefly, “I suppose so,” before turning to other questions.
Sky do not have a sprinter for the Vuelta’s flatter stages like on Monday, making this a stage where riders like Froome will aim to stay out of trouble, and his team-mate Sergio Henao, who crashed heavily yesterday and badly scraped his upper left leg, will try to recover as best they can.