Vuelta a España leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) has warned that after an easier stage on Friday - albeit one with a two-hour transfer afterwards - on Saturday he fully expects the battle for the GC to hot up once again, on the first of two summit finishes.
On Saturday, the Vuelta tackles the Xorret de Cati 5km 'wall', last used in the Vuelta back in 2010. Twenty-four hours later, the race returns to the Cumbres del Sol summit, where Tom Dumoulin narrowly defeated Froome in 2015.
"[Saturday's] final looks extremely hard," Froome said after stage seven's relatively calm, if long, run up to Cuenca in central Spain. "It's one of the more crucial stages of this year's race."
Asked if he needed to attack, something Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) said Froome should do given the narrowness of his advantage, Froome answered, "Anything could happen."
"I attacked in Andorra, then I attacked on the next mountain top finish. I've giving everything I have when I think it's the right moment. But I'm in a fantastic position. It's not up to me to make the racing."
That said, Froome hinted that he might be willing to 'loan' the leader's jersey to a non-GC contender in the days to come. But as the Briton pointed out, too, "The Vuelta is a race where you have to race on the front. There are a lot of crashes, and I'm really happy to stay in the lead, too.
"It is more work. There's a certain weight with the leader's jersey in a Grand Tour, but we've worked really hard in the team to try and make those extra duties as efficient as possible. That's a position I've become used to, and it does require a bit more time every day."
Froome also specifically thanked his Sky teammates Ian Stannard and Christian Knees for their hard work on the stage, before returning to thinking about the Xorret de Cati ascent on Saturday.
"It is another tough final," he said. "There will be ramps of over 18 per cent in the final five kilometres of the climb before we descend to the finish. It's going to be a big GC battle."
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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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