Quintana: Contador is the number one rival for the Vuelta a España

On the coldest day of the Vuelta a España so far, Nairo Quintana is perhaps himself again. Like his climbing forebear Charly Gaul, the Colombian seems to be a man who operates better as the temperature drops, and he confirmed that impression by moving into the overall lead during stage 9 at Valdelinares.

Quintana's attack amid the confusion on the snow-flecked descent of the Stelvio sparked days of polemica at the Giro, and by comparison, his assumption of the overall lead here was positively low-key.

His coexistence with Valverde in Movistar's Vuelta squad does not seem an entirely straightforward one, of course, but there was no obvious sense of a damaging internecine struggle at Valdelinares. Tactical considerations did not come into play – Quintana could follow Rodriguez in pursuit of Contador, while Valverde could not and instead finished with Froome.

"I didn't talk with Valverde in the finale but we were both climbing well," Quintana said. "I felt that I had good legs today and it was a good opportunity to take the overall lead. Today didn't really change a lot in the race, and it's the second and third week that will really decide it.

"There is no debate, we have two leaders. We're both up there, and whether it's Alejandro or me, the objective is to get the win for the team."

Movistar now hold first and third in the general classification, but on the final approach to Valdelinares, it was Froome's Sky team that whittled down the red jersey group with a determined display of pace-setting. Froome's anticipated attack never materialised, however, and he surprisingly conceded ground in the finale.

"I was a bit surprised that Froome was dropped, but maybe he just a bad day just like we all can have," Quintana said. "You can't rule Froome out. It's not a big difference, and I'm sure he'll be up there."

Froome will expect to respond in Tuesday's time trial to Borja, but given the force of Contador's attack in the finale at Valdelinares, Quintana has identified the Spaniard as the chief threat for final overall victory. Contador abandoned the Tour de France with a fractured tibia in mid-July, but made a surprise recovery to start the Vuelta, and his level of performance in the opening week has been startling.

"Alberto's attack was really very strong," Quintana said. "Froome is the number one favourite for the time trial, but Contador is the number one rival for the Vuelta."

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.