Vuelta a España leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has argued that his 12-second time loss to Chris Froome (Sky) on the summit of the Monte Castrove is not excessively important, even though they leave the Briton in second place overall, just 1:19 behind.
Unlike on Monday at La Farrapona, when Froome attacked on the Castrove at around 2.6 kilometres from the summit, Contador either could not or would not respond to the move. Instead, he entered into another uneasy working alliance with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and came home 13 seconds down on stage winner Fabio Aru (Astana).
Contador explained that the Monte Castrove climb – steady, rather than steep – was not one that did him any favours, although at the similar summit finish at Valdelinares on stage nine, Contador did not seem to be in any such difficulty on that kind of ascent.
Whatever the case, Contador argued that the Castrove was "a complicated climb with a lot of changes of pace, and although I didn't want to lose any time, it's not too important."
"I think Saturday's stage [at Ancares, the Vuelta's eight summit finishes – ed.] is very different to today's. It's one which is more suited to me because it's about straightforward physical condition and I hope these 20 seconds I've lost [including time bonuses] won't be a problem. Ancares is a high mountain stage, more one like the Giro or Tour."
Asked by Spanish tv reporter why he had not followed Froome rather than Valverde, he argued "because you don't know how Froome will race on a climb as explosive as today's.
"Sometimes he's had a problem with changes of pace. He had just attacked before and I was catching my breath when he went again. I thought I'd go with Alejandro because he was defending his second place overall. I thought he had more responsibility [to work] than me.
"I knew the time differences would be minimal because the last part of the climb wasn't that hard, and independently of whatever the time loss has been, I hope it's not a problem."
Asked about the infamous question of collaboration – or not – between the Spanish, an issue which has been lurking in the background since their collective failure to work together to drop Froome at Covadonga, Contador replied: "It wasn't an issue which I was thinking about. I thought the situation was good for me and at the end of the stage I'm happy with how it played out."
Although he has lost some time, Contador has made one gain in stage 18: he is the new leader of the combined jersey classification, ahead of Valverde, with whom he is tied on seven points. Wearing the red jersey of race leader on Sunday in Santiago, of course, remains his main goal.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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