An upbeat Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) completed the Vuelta a Espana's second last summit finish to Mas de la Costa on stage 17 in the same time as the three riders ahead of him on overall classification and remains resolute about his chances of moving up higher on GC.
Contador is in fourth overall with leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) ahead.
His fourth place overall is almost certain barring disaster after Orica-BikeExchange's Simon Yates, who was fifth on GC, lost 56 seconds on the climb and is now over two minutes behind the Spaniard. And after testing his legs twice on Mas de la Costa, with one attack splitting the front group of favourites and one very close to the finish, he failed to gain any time on the top three overall. But Contador says he is not ruling anything out.
Echoing Froome's post-stage observations, Contador said, "We spent a lot of time watching and waiting to see if any of the others had a moment of weakness, right up to the last climb.
"In Mas de la Costa, I saw that Froome was a little bit behind, so that's when I went for it, at the same time I could see what Chaves might be able to do.
"They came after me, and so did Nairo. In these kinds of really steep climbs, it's very difficult to get a gap." However, compared with the two ultra-steep ascents of Peña Cabarga and Ezaro, where Contador lost time to Quintana and Chaves, on this occasion, the Spaniard was clearly at ease.
"To tell the truth, it's not been a bad day at all, my legs felt pretty good."
So what does Contador think he can achieve? "I'm not thinking about going for a podium finish, I'm going to take things day by day and I'm not signing anything until I reach the final finish line. I'm going to fight for the maximum all the way through."
As for the time trial on Friday, Contador argued that "it's complicated, very technical and I'll try to gain some time. Before I start thinking about Saturday and Aitana, I want to prepare the chrono as best I can."
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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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