Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis has declared himself “optimistic” about Alberto Contador’s prospects of winning the Vuelta a España after the Spaniard claimed the stage victory atop La Farrapona on Monday afternoon.
Contador dropped Chris Froome in the final kilometre and put made significant gains on both Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez to add to his buffer at the top of the overall standing. He is now 1:36 clear of Valverde, with Froome a further three seconds behind.
“We talked in the morning and we felt that the best scenario would be if Froome attacked early and Alberto went with him,” Riis told Biciciclismo. “That way, we only had to follow the wheel.”
Froome duly accelerated with a little under four kilometres of the final climb remaining and Contador was the only rider who could follow. The red jersey opted to sit on Froome’s wheel until the final kilometre, before dropping him to win the stage by 14 seconds.
“It was perfect. We were hoping that he would be able to do it,” Riis said. “After what I saw on Sunday, I felt that Alberto was the strongest but, of course, you can never be sure because Froome has been up and down every day. I was quite optimistic that we would have a good stage because it was a very hard stage.”
Riis believes that Froome has superseded Valverde and Rodriguez as the biggest threat to Contador’s overall lead. The Briton is currently 1:39 behind, but there are still two summit finishes and a short time trial in the five stages that follow Tuesday’s second rest day.
“At the moment, the gap of 1:39 on Froome is good,” Riis said. “If Alberto doesn’t drop off, that will be enough. Froome is improving but Alberto is improving as well. I am very optimistic but we will have to be careful. There are still some hard stages to come.”
Both Contador and Froome arrived at the Vuelta short of racing miles after being forced to abandon the Tour de France early due to injury. Froome fractured his wrist in the opening week of the race, while Contador, remarkably, is on the brink of a third Vuelta victory after fracturing his tibia in a fall on July 14, less than two months ago.