Chris Froome's sole exchange with reporters in Alcaudete after stage 7 of the Vuelta a España was short and to the point. "I'm okay," he said as he was guided by his soigneur through the throng at the finish line, and those words had already been borne out by his actions in the closing metres.
Froome's day had begun with a familiar sense of foreboding when he crashed just 25 kilometres into the stage, but it ended with an act of defiance, as he picked up a brace of seconds on his overall rivals by following Philippe Gilbert and Dan Martin's accelerations on the final rise to the line.
The Team Sky leader remains in fourth place overall, now 20 seconds down on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but the psychological value of those two seconds gained far outweighs their material worth.
Immediately after the fall, Froome was left with a gap of a minute to make up on a peloton led by the Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo teams, and even though he safely rejoined the pack shortly afterwards, he was carrying cuts to his right elbow, hip and knee.
Froome's lengthy trip back to the race doctor's car for treatment to his injuries conjured up memories of his premature abandon at this year's Tour de France, but the air of déjà vu was dissipated when Sky's men in black hit the head of the peloton in the closing kilometres to position him for the finale.
After crossing the line in 7th place on the stage, Froome made his way to a tent beside the podium area for an on-the-hoof assessment of his injuries before he pedalled back down the finishing straight to the Team Sky bus. On the finish line, meanwhile, teammate Mikel Nieve offered greater detail on the background to Froome's latest crash.
The accident took place before live television pictures began, and a degree of confusion stemmed from race radio's account of the incident, which seemed to suggest that the Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo teams had upped the pace after the accident.
Nieve, however, explained that both teams were already at the head of the bunch before Froome crashed, as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was attempting to infiltrate the day's early break ahead of the first climb, the Alto de Illora.
"The speed was high and the peloton was already quite stretched out. We were closing the gaps when two or three riders crashed in front of us, and Chris went down," Nieve said. "We had to work hard to get Chris back on but I think he's okay now."
Briton relatively unscathed
An hour after the stage, Sky published Froome's own take on the afternoon's racing on the team website. He confirmed that he had not sustained any significant injuries in the crash although he acknowledged that his repeated ill fortune was a concern.
Froome's spate of crashes began at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, and he fell three times at the Tour prior to abandoning. His Vuelta, meanwhile, was preceded by a crash while training for the opening team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera.
"I'm feeling okay but you definitely get the feeling that when bad luck comes it comes more than once," Froome said. "But all things considered I'm feeling all right and I think I got off relatively unscathed.
"When the crash happened, a Giant-Shimano rider went down in front of me just to my left. I swerved to try and avoid that and went down. Then the guys paced me back. It took us a good 15 kilometres before we got back into the peloton."
Froome's two-second gain at Alcaudete will not necessarily prove decisive come the final reckoning in Galicia, but it seemed a welcome boost to morale. What is more, after losing 27 seconds to Quintana on the opening night, Froome is now just five seconds down on the pre-race favourite after a week of racing.
"I'll definitely take that after a stage like today," Froome said of his final acceleration. "At the end of the race you might need all the seconds you can to defend your place. I'll keep chipping away and get closer to the time trial."
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