Rodríguez takes big step forward at Vuelta time trial

For all that the top favourites are closer together than ever before in the Vuelta a España, the one overall contender who came out completely satisfied with today's time trial was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

Chris Froome (Sky) had warned - rightly - that Rodriguez would not be so far out of the running on what was an exceptionally technical, hilly course. But considering the Spaniard lost 4:25 to the Briton last year in Salamanca's time trial in the Vuelta, the 38 second difference between himself and Froome on Wednesday's course, not to mention the 59 second margin between himself and Contador, must have felt like a real triumph.

"It's a big step forward," Rodriguez - who had predicted he could lose up to three minutes on the favourites - said afterwards. "I've got Alberto [Contador] breathing down my ear [at one second overall] but that's fine. They can't take away what I've succeeded in doing"- which in his case, was holding onto the lead, pure and simple. And at tomorrow's steep uphill finish at the Mirador de Ezaro ‘Purito' will surely be the big favourite again.

"It's a very special day for me and still to be leader is amazing," Rodriguez said, "it's come down to a heck of a lot of hard work, though.

"I'd like to thank [sports director] Valerio Piva and [team trainer] Seb Weber for being so helpful and supportive. They gave me maximum guidance from the team car, right down to when I should eat and drink, what speed to take the curves at, the lot.

"We used [Movistar time triallist and former Vuelta leader] Jonathan Castroviejo's times as a reference point because we knew he would do well.

"Sebastian had got an incredibly detailed plan of the time trial. It really helped, and there's the result to prove it."

As for his rivals, although much of the focus has now switched to Contador, Rodríguez had nothing but praise for Froome, saying "he did a really good race, he's proving every day that he meant what he said about coming here to fight for the overall, and he's got a lot left to say in this year's Vuelta.

"I've done well today, but I'm going to have to be careful. Froome hasn't cracked, he's still plugging away and if I can be happy with what I've achieved, it's that final result in Madrid that really counts."

Froome himself admitted that he had had "a struggle on the climb, I'd like to have won, but I wasn't going great there and couldn't keep to the speeds I wanted.

"But I can't be disappointed, either, I've given my best and that's all I can do.

"It's not over yet by any means. Look at how close the top three are, just 16 seconds between us and with all those mountains to come. And we can't rule out [Alejandro] Valverde [Movistar], either."

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