“It will be hard to take him down from the place he’s in right now, but it’s not impossible,” Valverde said.
“Should we win one of the stages coming up right after today, we might take some seconds back and... who knows. The race is not over till the last day, we mustn't surrender.”
Fourth in the 2014 Tour de France, and third in the 2013 Vuelta, Valverde remains in second place here, just three seconds ahead of Chris Froome (Sky) after ceding time on Monday’s climb to la Farrapona. The winner of the stage to La Zubia, Valverde is 1:36 down on Contador.
Describing how he tackled La Farrapona, Valverde recalled: "I was riding behind Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez] during the climb. When he started losing ground and Froome attacked, really strong, I hesitated for a moment. Still, if I have reached Froome and Contador after that first attack, I think I'd have ended up paying for the effort and lost even more time.
“I did cooperate with Purito in the pursuit, but it was a climb of fast speeds and it was hurting me more than having a real effect on the gaps. When I pushed forward, I was just over the limit. Not much energy left on the tank, either.”
Valverde is adamant that despite losing time, though, “anything could happen” in the five remaining stages and argued that Galicia’s steadier ascents were more suited to his racing style compared to the more irregular climbs in Asturias and León.
"There's one week left; there's Froome against him; I don't rule out my own chances,” Valverde said. “It looks good for Alberto, but not easy. On the other hand, we didn't think Froome would do as well as yesterday; he didn't hesitate for a moment after his team-mates picked up the pace and attacked with 5km remaining - still, he suffered in the Lagos climb. We will see how everything goes until Sunday.”
Perhaps warming to his theme that he may well try to go for broke between now and next Sunday, Valverde said that he has not thought how much time he would need against Froome in the final time trial to hold onto second. Instead, he was thinking about beating Froome.
"But why not ride faster than him on that course?” Valverde asked. “It's almost a prologue, and I usually do well on those. I might beat him or not, obviously, but it's not a 40km time trial.”
Valverde certainly seems to be in a different mindset and - he says - physical condition than at the final week of the Tour de France, where he was slowly nudged off the podium by France’s Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R - La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr)
“Even though I’m tired, which is normal after sixteen days into a GT, I'm feeling great - in my opinion, stronger than at this point into the Tour,” Valverde said.
“Staying in the fight for the podium at the Tour until the final day, then coming into this Vuelta claiming stage wins and staying up front, second now and still up and fighting... I think it deserves credit."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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