Froome blasts back into contention with Vuelta a Espana time trial win

A faultless time trial performance by Chris Froome on Friday has seen the Team Sky rider roar back into overall contention in the Vuelta a Espana with one major mountain stage remaining.

The Briton captured his second Vuelta stage win of 2016 - and Team Sky's third - with a commanding performance in the technical 37km time trial that, crucially, left Nairo Quintana (Movistar) struggling to contain the damage and limiting the gap to a hefty 2 minutes and 16 seconds.

Froome, therefore, is still at a one minute 21 second disadvantage overall on Quintana. But having made such major inroads on the Colombian's overall advantage, what was a very slim possibility of victory may yet remain lower than Quintana's - but it has multiplied considerably compared to 24 hours before.

The Briton showed he meant business from the word go in the time trial, opening up a whopping gap of 28 seconds on Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) - the rider he had beaten into fourth by four seconds in the Olympic Games - after just 12 kilometres. Asked later if he could enjoy racing a time trial so hard, Froome looked surprised and said, "No, that's not possible. But I do get a lot of satisfaction when I hear I'm setting the fastest time. That's the whole reason you race."

Froome therefore could be even more pleased when his margin over Castroviejo - the best of the rest of the field - increased to 39 seconds at the second check point at kilometre 24 and then 44 seconds by the finish. The heat and humidity were such that Froome poured one bottle of water over his head to try and cool down at the finish in the coastal town of Calp, but the results more than justified his massive effort.

"It wasn't at all straightforward as a time trial," Froome said afterwards, "it was technical, windy and with tough little climbs and a fast descent. It was a really testing route.

"[So] I'm very happy with the result today, particularly at this point in the season, when this is my last race of the year.

"Nairo has more than one minute's advantage. He will be very difficult to beat, but I will keep fighting all the way."

Asked about the Aitana stage and whether he felt that the battle between the GC contenders - given there are bonus seconds on offer - could see them going head to head for the stage win, Froome answered that he had not done a specific recon of the final climb, although he had looked at it online.

"It's not as steep as the other climbs in the Vuelta, but given it's the last stage before Madrid, there's a good chance there will be a fight between the GC contenders there," he recognised.

"But it's not only about [Saturday's] final climb, it's going to be a very tough stage from beginning to end. There could be lots of different scenarios on the road, and we will have to make the right decisions about which moves to follow. It could be a very tactical race.

"You could see a big fight right from the start, it might be a very hard fight right from the first climb."

Had his team recovered from their collective defeat in Aramon-Formigal? Froome answered that his team were "very motivated for Saturday's stage. Most of the guys had an easier day today, they didn't go full gas. This Vuelta's full of surprises, and maybe tomorrow will be another surprise.

"Tinkoff and Orica-BikeExchange are also looking to gain time, it could prove to be a very explosive race."

Given he was just 54 seconds back on Quintana before the stage to Aramon Formigal, Froome was asked if he was still cross about what had happened that day.

"I'm not the kind of person to keep looking back and thinking about 'what if,'" Froome answered. "I'm focussed on tomorrow, and I'm happy with today's result, which went very well. And I'm going to keep racing hard all the way to Madrid."

Friday's time trial certainly did not suggest anything else could be true.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.