A dramatic double crash for Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the Vuelta a España and an attack by Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) saw the race leader lose a small amount time after a spectacular 15-kilometre chase on stage 12.
On a theoretically quiet transition day, the Briton ultimately lost 20 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and the other overall favourites, and over double that at 42 seconds to Alberto Contador, who remains over three minutes behind.
Froome revealed later that he had crashed twice and had a mechanical too as a result of the first fall, which forced him to change bikes.
He crossed the line with some small cuts on his knees. But to judge by the strength of his all-out pursuit of the lead group with two Sky teammates, Wout Poels and Mikel Nieve, as well as doing his usual round of protocol ceremonies and press conferences after the stage, the Briton's injuries appear to have been minimal despite what were some painful close shaves.
"I did come off twice on consecutive corners, I crashed once [when I] lost my front wheel, the levers were all bent," Froome said.
Froome landed on one of the levers, bending it completely so he changed his bike straightaway.
However, he had more trouble immediately afterwards. "I went into the next corner and lost my front wheel again, and continued on that same bike after that," he said. "I'm just grateful not to be more injured today, I lost a little bit of skin, but that was the extent of it."
A first initial move by Contador close to the summit, prior to the crashes, did not bring a full-blown reaction from Froome or his teammates, with Sky simply upping the pace behind. That did shred the peloton to around two dozen chasers, but by the summit, Contador's gap was less than a minute.
Then after the crashes happened on road surfaces rendered slippery by the first rain in months in the area yesterday, things got much more serious. Froome was forced to chase not only Contador, but also a group containing Nibali and the rest of the GC contenders on the descent to Antequera.
Froome was unconcerned that Nibali and the rest of the GC riders had reacted so fiercely to Contador's move, saying, "I was focussed on my effort and doing my best with Mikel [Nieve] and Wout [Poels]. I'm just grateful I didn't lose any more time." He thanked his two teammates profusely for "helping me to limit the losses," calling them "fantastic."
Overall this represents the first time gain for Nibali on Froome since he won the stage into Andorra and netted a 10 second time bonus, while on the previous day in the splits to Gruissans, Nibali had also clawed back a little time.
Froome remains, therefore, firmly in control of the Vuelta. While Contador confirmed again that he will go on the rampage whenever he can, this was no major defeat. Rather the double crash was a reminder of just how brittle even the most dominating of performances can be in a sport as unpredictable as cycling.
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