Alberto Contador's options for winning the Vuelta a Espana took another serious blow on the Lagos de Covadonga as both Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) gained yet more time on the Spaniard.
Contador (Tinkoff) initially stuck with Quintana when Froome slid backwards out of the main group of contenders, but then saw himself drift out of the battle for the stage to finish eighth, 1:05 down on Quintana.
It is undeniable that Contador has suffered more setbacks than others in the race, with a major crash on stage 7 leading to thoughts of abandoning and ongoing injuries. But the GC tide was also flowing strongly against him already, given the crash in Puebla de Sanabria was also preceded by a poor opening team time trial and a below-expectations individual ride to Ezaro on stage 3.
Combining all of these factors as well as his latest defeat in Covadonga, the Tinkoff leader is now fifth overall, which is two spots higher than 24 hours ago. But after slipping 65 seconds on Quintana and 40 seconds on Froome, the GC gaps on the Colombian and Briton and even perhaps Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange), both ahead of him at Covadonga, look increasingly unreachable.
After 10 days racing, Contador is now 2:54 down on Quintana and he recognised that both in terms of strength and strategy, the Lagos de Covadonga had proved a climb too far.
"The climb was very long for me," Contador said. "I tried to hold on and not lose too much time, but for one reason or another the differences became enormous. Now the most important thing is to keep on trying to recover from my injuries."
After Froome had been dropped, Contador made a mistake, he said, of overestimating his energy levels and trying to stay with Quintana.
"I had two options: either go after him or stay with Froome, and I chose badly. After 2012 and 2014 on the Lagos" - where Froome had, as the Briton said, cracked on the climb - "I thought Froome was in real difficulties but as we saw with his style of racing, getting increasingly strong as the stage went on, he almost caught Quintana.
"I don't like using the word impossible, but I do find myself in a very difficult position," Contador said. "We'll see what we do from here on in. I really want to make the most of the rest day, because on Wednesday we’ve got another big uphill battle in Peña Cabarga.
"It's too soon to say whether I should go for other objectives if I don't go for the overall, although there are factors for and against deciding to do that.
"I'm here to win the Vuelta and we're only halfway there. People can crack when they least expect it and I can take advantage of that," Contador said.
But at this point in the Vuelta, injured, with at least two formidable rivals ahead of him overall and looking stronger in what in theory is his favoured hunting ground - the mountains - trying to beat Froome and Quintana in part two of the Vuelta is looking like an uphill task indeed.
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