At first glance, the lack of a summit finish might have made the 163 kilometre stage through the remote rural uplands of southern Galicia seem like the proverbial walk in the park. Instead, Contador described a stage where temperatures hit the high 30s, on poor roads, technical descents, and with barely a metre of flat, not to mention a second category climb mid-stage as "one where the top names really had to be in the thick of the action right the way through."
Talking between swigs of water as he talked to a sea of Spanish TV and radio cameras, Contador - who blamed his poor showing on stage 3's summit finish to Ezaro on dehydration - said "It was a very complicated day."
"I'm convinced such a brutal beginning to the race is really going to take its toll in the third week. All of us GC riders had to be up there right the way through. We all used up a lot of energy.
"I got through the stage in good shape and without any problems, but it was lucky it was sunny because if not some of the descents were very dangerous."
The Spaniard finished 15th on the stage, and remains 12th overall at 1:52 on race leader Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team).
"I'm feeling good, but I'll have to see what I'm like on the big mountain stages before really knowing my condition," he argued. "And so far, we haven't had any big climbs."
Contador and the rest of the peloton face yet another tough day on Friday, with 2,595 metres of vertical climbing and constantly undulating terrain as the Vuelta exits Galicia with a 158.5 kilometre stage from Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria in the almost equally remote region of Zamora in north-west Castille.
There is no summit finish, but on Saturday, the ascent to Camperona will test the GC riders' climbing legs, and it is not a climb which will bring back particularly good memories for Contador, either: in 2014, when the Vuelta last tackled the Camperona, Ryder Hesjedal, then racing for Garmin-Sharp, took the win, but Contador, whilst holding onto the leader’s jersey and putting time into Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), lost seven seconds to a certain Chris Froome (team Sky).
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