Triple Vuelta a España winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) dropped a spot to sixth overall on the 2016 race's toughest mountain stage after his one attack on the Col d'Aubisque was quickly extinguished, but the Madrid-born rider remains upbeat despite losing 20 seconds to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Sky).
Rather than the top GC riders, Contador's reference points are increasingly the group of riders who are looking for a podium finish - Leopold Konig (Sky), Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), all of whom gained time on the Tinkoff rider. As Contador explained at the line, during the stage it became obvious that he can no longer afford to follow Quintana and Froome; rather it is the riders further back on GC that are now troubling him.
19th on the line, Contador said afterwards: "I felt good and went for it on the Aubisque, but more than really trying for to gain time my idea was to try to kickstart a steadier rhythm in the group of favourites.
"Maybe some people would be surprised by this, but I'm not going badly. I was focused on Quintana and Froome, but there were a lot of attacks by dangerous rivals whom I had to keep under control, too.
"There were points on the climb when we were almost drawing to a standstill and that kind of start-stop-start pace doesn't favour me. When Chaves attacked the whole GC group sat up. It took me a while to get going afterwards and attack.
"My idea was not to go all out; rather to try to get a steadier pace."
Contador's hopes began to fade with a poor team time trial, a below-expectations ascent of the stage three climb to Ezaro, and a heavy crash on stage seven. Close to abandoning at one point, a strong ride on the Alto de la Camperona the following day has been followed by a gradual falling off the pace overall.
Albeit unintentionally, Contador has assumed the mantle of Spain's best-placed GC rider in his country's home Grand Tour after Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), previously third overall, slid out of the running in dramatic fashion.
With a track record of three wins in three Vuelta starts, and his memorable third week bounceback in the Vuelta 2012, history may be on Contador’s side. But for now, the present looks very different.
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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