After another dramatic day in the Volta a Catalunya, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) rose to second overall after Chris Froome (Team Sky) lost significant time on the last mountain stage of the race.
The Spaniard was part of a 50-strong group that escaped during the opening hour of racing on stage 6. All of the GC contenders were present, bar Froome, who lost ground with his entire Sky outfit.
Contador's Trek-Segafredo squad continued to put time into Froome, who dropped from second overall in GC to outside the top 20. On the final climb of the race, Contador launched a brief attack. However, the shallow gradient, coupled with the long distance between the summit and the finish in Reus, hampered his chances. In the end he sat up and waited for the Movistar-led field. Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) won the stage ahead of race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who extended his lead to 53 seconds over Contador.
"It was a tough stage. We did not know how the race was going to pan out but with intermittent rain expected we knew that we had to be attentive. There was a climb that wasn't very hard, but with a complicated descent and we knew that we had to try to be well-placed," Contador said of the early split that ended Froome's hopes.
"I started the climb in the middle of the pack and until I got to the head I had to go quite strong, but I knew it was super important to start the descent in front. We went down very fast and when we got down the peloton had broken into a thousand pieces, as I knew was going to happen."
The result means that Contador will likely finish second overall for the third time this season, having been the runner up in both the Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice.
"For us it has been a good day, we have accumulated more kilometres of training, although the victory in the general could not be possible because the last mountain was very far from the finish. The most important thing for me is the good feelings that I am having at the beginning of the season. It it gives me a lot of confidence for the great objectives, especially the one of the month of July."
Contador's next race will be País Vasco, which starts on April 3. He is likely to race the Critérium du Dauphiné before leading Trek-Segafredo into the Tour de France.
For Froome and Sky, it was a day of suffering and reminiscent of the Vuelta a Espana stage to Formigal where the British team was also on the wrong side of a split in the peloton.
"We just caught out. We didn't expect the race to split apart at that point and that the main split would go on a two kilometre descent. All it took was one rider a few wheels ahead of me to let the wheel go. On a really technical descent like that there was no way of getting round to close the gap. We chased really hard for about 50kms but we were making no ground on a group of that size ahead of us, so we had to call it a day at that point," Froome said in a team statement.
"I said coming into this race that I was here to suffer this week and that's exactly what I've got out of it. Personally it was great to be up there yesterday with the best guys and to be feeling that good this early on in the season, but days like today are really tough. We just have to learn from them and move on."
Froome will start the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya in 31st place still looking for his first win of the season.
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