Chris Froome (Sky) dug deep on stage four of the Vuelta a Andalucia to bounce back from his defeat to Alberto Contador at Hazallanas 24 hours earlier to take both the day’s victory and, by a bare second, the overall lead.
The Briton’s return to the top spot is his first victory since a mountain stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné last year – ahead, curiously enough, of his arch-rival Contador. And as Froome told reporters after coming off the winner’s podium: “It’s great for the race and the spectators that we’ve got this duel between us.
“Obviously yesterday Alberto came out on top and today - I’m blown away with that win, I didn’t expect that at all.
“Coming into this race, I thought I’m here to test the legs and see where the form is at, but by no means did I expect to be going into the last stage wearing the leader’s jersey and having won the penultimate stage.
“I’m really happy with how that went, and also really happy with how the team’s riding. I think everyone, especially the new guys on the team, have integrated really well and are riding really well. It feels like everyone’s got the bit between their teeth this season and they are getting stuck in, which is great to see.”
That was particularly important on a tough stage like Saturday’s 200-kilometre grind through the hills of northern Andalusia. Although the finishing climb was dry, the weather conditions, Froome said, “were very bad out there before. It was freezing out there, but the guys pulled through. On the final climb Pete [Kennaugh], Nicolas [Roche],Mikel [Nieve], everyone was trying to make it as hard as possible for me to go when it was steepest and it worked out well.”
Froome’s attack, he said, “was more on feeling than anything else. We knew it would be a hard climb today and I just looked up for once and saw the road kicked up. It was a good ramp to put the hammer down and go.”
With just one second’s difference between Contador and Froome overall, the Briton says the race is far from decided in his favour, even if the last stage looks fairly straightforward on paper. “It’s definitely not over ’til it’s over. If there’s anything I’ve learned about racing with Alberto over the last few years, he never gives up and the race isn’t over yet.”
Asked if the race represented a mental boost, Froome said: “Of course it’s nice to win, but I’d say I definitely came into this race not knowing what to expect so it’s got to be a bit of a boost for all of us, for myself and my teammates.”