Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) made no less than seven separate attacks on Monday's ascent of the Arrate in the Vuelta a España, but although they wreaked some important damage amongst the main peloton, they were not enough to sink either stage winner and new leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) or two of the top pre-race favourites, Giro runner-up Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Tour runner-up Chris Froome (Sky).
Unlike Rodríguez, Froome did not manage to stay with Contador at the precise moment the Saxo Bank rider made his move, but each time his steadier pace saw the Briton return to the four-strong lead group. Third on the stage, Froome is now fourth overall, 20 seconds back.
"We have some really hard stages coming up, so today was not a stage to push too hard," Froome said later.
"I didn't see any need to close those gaps down, I was trying to control him at my own speed."
"Coming here after [doing] the Tour and Olympics was a bit of an unknown, but the legs are doing all right and we should be in for a good few weeks of racing."
"It was a good day for Chris and a good start to the mountain stages for us," Sky sports director Marcus Ljungvist told Cyclingnews.
"We'd toughened things up at the foot of the climb to try and make things harder for everybody and then Chis showed he has got the condition to be right at the front of the race."
"That sort of attack by Alberto is very typical of the way he races, and it's logical he's so keen and fresh after his long time away from racing. We were expecting it."
As for tomorrow's final ascent of Valdezcaray, longer and less steep Ljungvist says "it's very different to today's. If it's windy it could be tough, but I think we'll see a bigger group at the top. Whatever happens, we've made a good start."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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