Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) took an all but decisive step towards winning his third Vuelta a España in six years, as he dropped Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the final summit finish of Ancares to claim his second stage victory in a week.
In what was effectively a replay of his triumph on the Farrapona stage, after Sky had laid the foundations for Froome to attack, with hard work from Pete Kennaugh, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Philip Deignan, the Briton duly surged away from the half dozen riders in the group of favourites with six kilometres left to go the summit.
This was a little further than on the Farrapona - there Froome had attacked from four kilometres to go - but on this occasion the result was exactly the same. Unlike Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who cracked very quickly under Froome’s series of accelerations, Contador remained glued to Froome’s back wheel each time the Sky rider upped the pace.
And then, with 600 metres to go, the Madrileño surged around the Briton and headed for the finish line and victory, gaining 16 seconds on Froome as well as the time bonus. Overall, with a 1:37 lead on Froome and 2:35 on Valverde, barring absolute disaster in tomorrow’s 9.7-kilometre individual time trial, Contador has a third Vuelta a España to add to those he won in 2012 and 2008.
Contador’s second stage win on the Farrapona also netted him the Jose Maria Jimenez prize - awarded to the rider who triumphed on the mountain stage with the highest finish in memory of the legendary Spanish climber. He has, too, reinforced his hold on the ‘Combined’ classification - although it is the overall which is, obviously, his biggest goal.
“I have to get through tomorrow’s time trial, but if we look at the time differences, barring a last minute problem, it [the Vuelta] is won,” Contador said.
“The tactic was simple in some ways - to follow Froome’s wheel, although you had to have the legs to do that, and he was going so strongly. I had time differences on my side, though, which was an advantage.”
“I’m very happy, another win and I’ve won the two hardest stages of the Vuelta, I can’t ask for more,” he said.
Asked how he felt about fighting against a top Grand Tour racer like Froome, Contador argued “it’s very motivating, it always is to battle against the top names.”
“People asked me at the start of the year what my objectives were - the Tour? - and I said, no, in fact it was the whole season.”
“And this season I’ve finished all the stage races I’ve completed in the top two places and hopefully if there are no problems tomorrow, I can enjoy the final stage.”
Although this Grand Tour has been important for Contador given his crashing out of the Tour and subsequent injury, he argued that his most special win “remains that of Fuente Dé in the Vuelta 2012.”
“This year was a real challenge, it seemed in 2013 as if my best years were behind me, but I knew that a lot of circumstances had stopped me from racing at my best level.”
“That meant, though, that I worked a lot harder, harder than I ever have done before - and I will keep wondering how I could have done in the Tour de France if I hadn’t been injured.”
How will this victory - and defeat of Froome - affect Contador for next year?, he was asked. “It boosts my motivation, because he’s a world-class reference point in the Grand Tours, and beating him is important. But when the season starts next year, we’ll all be back to starting from zero.”