Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has predicted that Wednesday's stage of the Vuelta a España could well be one of the toughest of the entire race, thanks to a combination of heat, climbs and increasing exhaustion as the event enters its third week.
Stage 17's final climb of Mas de la Costa has never before featured in the Vuelta, but it is said to be very similar to Peña Cabarga, the four-kilometre ultra-steep ascent in Cantabria where Chris Froome (Sky) narrowly defeated Nairo Quintana (Movistar) last week. Contador has argued, however, that "the time differences will be much bigger."
"I know the climb personally and I went up it very recently. The gaps will be far bigger. It's going to be extremely hot [around 35-40 degrees is forecast – ed.] and there's more than 3,700 metres of vertical climbing. It'll be one of the hardest days of the entire Vuelta."
Fourth overall, Contador remains – as ever – convinced that the race is not lost, and that "a thousand different outcomes are possible. I'm not sure what I'll do from here on, but I'll do something, that's for sure."
Contador is currently 4th overall, 4:02 behind overall leader Quintana, but only five seconds off third-placed Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange).
"The podium was never an objective, rather I wanted to win the race outright," Contador said. "However, Nairo has a good lead and he's a long way off overall now."
Instrumental in turning the race upside down once in the Pyrenees, Contador was asked if he would now consider an alliance with Froome or Chaves to try to take on Quintana's overall lead.
"I'm not into making alliances with any team before a stage starts," Contador fired back. "The alliance on the road to Formigal [on stage 15 with Quintana] only happened once racing was underway.
"When you see who's in a breakaway, that's when you work for what you can. In the current situation, if Froome doesn't come up with something, he's going to have a real job knocking Nairo out of the lead."
As for Contador's own objectives, he said with a wry smile that having had a 100 percent success rate in the three Vueltas he has ridden to date, with a win in each one, "it looks like it's going to drop to 75 percent. However, it's not over until we reach Madrid."
Contador has yet to decide on his calendar for the rest of the season beyond the Vuelta. As for the ongoing controversy surrounding the riders who were reinstated after finishing outside the time limit on Sunday, Contador said: "We should analyse the situation and find a solution to something that stops riders from racing at a snail's pace. I compared my power meter with Jesus Hernandez [his teammate who finished 140th in the gruppetto – ed.] and he had made half the effort that I did in that stage. If you don't apply the rules correctly, somebody pays for it."