Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has recognised that after two wins in five days on the Vuelta a Espana’s two key summit finishes to date and a return to the leader’s jersey to boot, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) has become a key rival in the battle for the overall.
A stage winner himself at Vejer de la Frontera, Valverde and his co-leader Nairo Quintana finished fifth and ninth respectively, 11 seconds down on Chaves, on stage 6’s third category finish, and were thus unable to finish off Movistar’s hard work - together with Giant-Alpecin - on the rolling roads of north-east Andalucia that preceded the draggy final climb to Cazorla.
Now 49 seconds down on Chaves, Valverde says Chaves was a rival they would have to watch very closely in the stages to come.
"Attacking like that, right at the bottom of the climb, and staying away all the way to the finish shows he’s in great form and a big rival," Valverde told reporters after the stage.
"There’s a lot of the Vuelta to go, but we can’t afford to underestimate Chaves at all."
Valverde nonetheless emphasised that the stage 6 final climb itself “was not as hard as we expected” and that Friday’s much longer climb to the Alto de Capileira in the Alpujarras region will probably produce a very different kind of result with much bigger time differences.
"We knew that the time gaps weren’t going to be so big today," Valverde commented. "I’m in good shape, so is the team, and we’ll see what happens on a much tougher stage like Friday."
One of Movistar’s objectives on stage 7 will undoubtably be to keep Chaves on as tight a leash as possible - and they are not the only top team who are determined to do so.
Most of the Vuelta contenders who took part in the Tour all seem to be on roughly the same level, and when it comes to the climbs neither of Astana’s Giro podium finishers, Mikel Landa nor Fabio Aru, have stuck their heads above the parapet so far. But Chaves impressively strong form appears to have taken many of the more established stars by surprise. And on Friday, after showing so well on the shorter climbs and summit finishes, Chaves' resistance on much longer ascents will be put to the test for the first time in the 2015 Vuelta.