Four years ago, when Contador was en route to a second of his three overall victories, the Spanish Grand Tour specialists finished second behind Joaquim Rodriguez on the Ezaro stage. On Monday he fared far worse, finishing ninth and losing 32 seconds to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and slightly less time to Chris Froome (Team Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Coupled with his Tinkoff's disappointing team time trial, where Contador also lost more time than he had hoped for, the Spaniard is now twelfth overall at 1:31 minutes. After three days, this represents a significant setback and handicap, although Contador is adamant it was not a decisive one.
"The race isn't over, by any means," Contador told Spanish newspaper AS. "The differences aren't so big overall, even if it wasn't a good day for me overall."
"I don't feel at all satisfied even if I think my form will get better over the coming days."
Contador told AS that he didn't have a concrete explanation for why he suffered on the climb, simply that "maybe it was because of the heat during the day, but my pulse rate shot up and my legs weren't there. In that section of 30 percent, my pulse rate went up to 200."
Contador remained adamant that he would not throw in the towel, but argued instead "I'll have to wait for other opportunities."
Tuesday's fourth stage is equally hilly and also has a summit finish, but Contador may well be more at ease on the final climb of San Andrés de Teixedo.
It is ranked as second category. At 11.2 kilometres it is far longer but it is also far less steep, 4.8 percent rather than the Ezaro's stretches of up to 30 percent. The weather, too, is forecast to be a lot cooler.
Vuelta a Espana stage 3 video highlights