Rodríguez uses his head to take Vuelta stage 6 win

Whilst Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) blamed his off day on stage 6 at the Vuelta a Espana on dehydration and cramps, compatriot Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) soared past Briton Chris Froome (Sky) to claim the seventh stage win of 2012 and the fourth Vuelta stage victory of his career.

Thanks to his late charge, the 33-year-old Rodriguez stretched what was a one-second margin over Froome to 10 seconds, whilst Contador dropped to being 35 seconds back.

Congratulated by Froome after the stage for how he had raced, Rodríguez said, "He was much stronger, so I had to use my head, because that was the only way I was going to win here. It wasn't a lot, but we've seen in previous races" - like the Vuelta 2012 - "that even a handful of seconds can be important."

"For a climb that supposedly didn't suit him, he did a very good job. It was a really tough stage, really hot, and with the speed we went through Jaca [at the foot of the climb], it seemed like we were going to end up doing a bunch sprint."

"I stuck on Froome's wheel, I couldn't have done much more the pace they [Sky's Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Urán and Froome] were setting."

"I didn't know what was going on behind, I thought that Alejandro [Valverde] would be the strongest. I have to thank my [Katusha] teammate Angel Vicioso" - who lives in nearby Zaragoza - "He came here and looked out the stage and he got it exactly right. It was very useful information and helped me a lot."

"But I'm not surprised that Froome is going so well. He was arguably the strongest rider in the Tour de France, and he has clearly come here to win."

Asked whether he was as strong as in 2010, when he finished fourth in the Vuelta - his best finish in the Spanish race to date - Rodríguez evaded the question slightly and said, "I'm feeling good."

"The most important thing is that we're pretty much the same line-up that raced in the Giro [where Rodriguez finished second - ed.], and we know how to work well together. On top of that we've got Denis [Menchov] here as extra reinforcements. It's looking good."

Contador, meanwhile, put a brave face on his losing 18 seconds, saying that he had suffered in the last kilometre but telling reporters that at least, "I've managed to save the day." But with 35 seconds now between himself and Purito, and Froome now 25 seconds ahead, those differences are beginning to be significant.

"For me it wasn't the best sort of climb, I knew that, but also in normal conditions I'd have been ahead without any kind of problem and could have fought for the stage."

"But I'm happy because despite having this problem, the losses have been minimal."

Saying that he had seen that Froome was strong, he said, "And that was something I like. It's important for the race that other riders make their moves. It also gives me some opportunities."

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.