Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) may have started the Vuelta a España on the back foot following his crash and injury in the Tour de France, but so far he remains firmly in the mix with the other favourites.
On a day when other favourites like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lost contact on the final, tough uphill finish - albeit only losing a handful of seconds - Contador finished last rider in the front group, in 16th place. He also showed strongly on the final climb, following a ferocious pace set down by Katusha. The double Vuelta winner has moved up from 34th to twelfth overall, 23 seconds back on new race leader Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge).
On a day when temperatures soared into the high thirties on a five hour grind through the sierras of western Andalusia, Contador insisted on talking to the press in one of the few areas of shade at the finish, saying afterwards, “we all used up a lot of energy. The heat was terrible, 40 degrees at some points.”
“But I came through it well, even if I had to make a big effort compared to other riders who have got more race form. I went for it a little too early on the climb, and I maybe lacked a little bit of punch at the end.”
“The objective was to lose as little time as possible, and that’s what I managed to do. There are a lot of riders going better than me right now.”
His knee injury, in any case, “didn’t bother me at all in this heat. It’s only when it cools down after an effort that it hurts. I’ll go on taking it on the day by day, but this was very encouraging. One day less, and I’m very pleased to have got through such a demanding one.”