Alberto Contador made it through the fourth stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco officially on the same time as most of his GC rivals, but it was not an easy road to the line for the Trek-Segafredo rider.
"If I saved this day, I think I can save any other," Contador said after a rough outing in the Basque Country.
Contador hit the deck hard in a crash as the peloton approached the Bilbao finishing circuit. The pileup saw several riders abandon the race, but Contador remounted and rejoined the pack to take on the final climb. On the early slopes of the ascent, a mechanical forced him to change bikes with [much shorter] teammate Julien Bernard.
Finally, Contador suffered a puncture in the closing kilometres, though after passing the safety of the three-kilometres-to-go marker. He crossed the line well behind stage winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNl-Jumbo) and the pack sprinting for minor placings just behind, but was given the same time as those in the peloton.
"The crash happened at a narrowing [of the road]. A rider was caught up by a bollard," Contador said. "Well-positioned or no, it was impossible to avoid it."
It was not a soft landing for the Spaniard, but he resolved to press on.
"The only remedy is to get yourself up. It was a tough fall. I'm still feeling the effects. It's going to be a complicated night, and tomorrow is very important day," he said.
Friday's queen stage includes six categorised ascents, including a first-category finale on the Usartzako climb. The race concludes with a decisive time trial in the sixth and final stage Saturday.
"I'm not worrying about the setbacks. There are two efforts left, tomorrow and the day after, and then I'm going on vacation for a few days," he said with a laugh. "My arm ... muscular pain in my left leg – we'll see how it goes tomorrow."
"The truth is, they have to redesign these finishes with so many traffic cones," Contador said.