Chris Froome (Team Sky) held onto his second place position at the Vuelta a Espana after stage 15 of the Spanish grand tour but his aspirations of joining Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault in completing a Tour de France-Vuelta double have all but expired.
Froome, who won a third Tour title in July, saw his 54 second disadvantage to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) blow out to 3:37 minutes after the 118.5km stage from Sabinanigo to Formigal that saw 93 riders miss the time cut. A day after matching Quintana on the Col d'Aubisque, Froome had no answers to the Colombian.
"It's definitely made it a lot more hard now. A minute was manageable; three minutes is going to be extremely tough. But stranger things have happened and we're going to keep fighting all the way," Froome told ITV Sport. "It was a tough stage for us, obviously. The guys did a lot of work yesterday, so we weren't as prepared as some of the other teams this morning."
Froome and Team Sky were on the back foot almost from the gun as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and stage winner Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) instigated the day's breakaway of 14-riders which was joined by Quintana. David Lopez and Salvatore Puccio were the sole Team Sky riders by Froome's side as the advantage started to swell as Movistar interrupted the chase via Alejandro Valverde and Imanol Erviti.
"Obviously, getting caught out there with Contador and Quintana in that early break, that put us on the back foot and we just never recovered," Froome added. "Credit to them. They rode a really smart race and they have gained a lot of time today on us."
When Movistar had an isolated Froome on the ropes during stage 9 of the 2013 Tour into Bagnères-de-Bigorre, the Spanish team failed to capitalise and after the stalemate of stage 14 they well and truly made up for past indiscretions to position Quintana on the cusp of his first grand tour victory over the Briton.
Read more on this article:
- Vuelta a Espana: Nairo Quintana deals body blow to Froome on stage 15
- Peloton of 93 riders re-admitted to Vuelta a Espana after missing time limit
- Vuelta a Espana: Quintana gains time on Froome in spectacular fashion
- Vuelta a Espana: Contador launches decisive move on the road to Formigal
- Vuelta a Espana: Team Sky reflect on disastrous stage 15
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford also spoke with ITV Sport after the stage, explaining that Movistar and Tinkoff had played their cards to perfection and reaped the benefits.
"Sometimes you have to take your hat off to people and just say, 'well done,'" Brailsford added. "That was a great move and it paid off for Nairo and Alberto.
"We just have to sit down and look at it and keep on going. Sometimes in sport you take a punch in the face, turn around sit yourself down and say right, there six days of racing left, we're still in the same position as we were this morning and we'll just keep on going," added Brailsford.
While Froome is expected to take back time on Quintana in the 37km stage 19 time trial, he and Team Sky will need to replicate similar aggressive tactics to pull off the overall victory and stop Froome from a third second place finish at the three week race.