Vuelta a Espana race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) says despite Friday's stage 19 time trial defeat, he is still confident that he has a more than sufficient advantage overall for the final mountain stage of the race to stay in command of the Vuelta.
Quintana began losing time right from the start of the Calp time trial, with his time gap on Froome already at 46 seconds after 12 kilometres. By kilometre 24, that margin had almost exactly doubled, to 1:33 and in the final segment it had all but tripled to 2:16.
Considering Quintana had estimated prior to the stage he would lose around a minute to Froome, the margin of his defeat was far more serious than he expected. The Colombian climber visibly struggled on a technical and fairly flat course, which combined with the strongly gusting wind, was hardly to his liking, but this was a blow that has - once again - allowed Froome to roar back into contention.
However, Quintana insisted everything was under control, saying afterwards "Why should I be?" when he was asked if he was more worried than before the stage.
"No, I'm calm, the TT was windy and, Chris flew. It's true it surprised me that he could take so much time. But knowing I've got good legs and with a good advantage, I'm sure I can defend the lead."
Quintana pointed out that he had, prior to the Vuelta, expected he would lose around two minutes to Froome in the Calp time trial, just as he had done in the 2016 Tour de France's second week time trial over a similar distance.
"I did a good time trial, the difference was that Chris really flew," he repeated. He was not overgeared, he insisted, joking that the only teeth that he could have done without were not the ones on his gears, "but the ones in my mouth because I was gasping for air and they got in the way."
However, despite his good humour and insistence that there was no greater danger in the current scenario than before, and that "some of those who went really deep today will suffer tomorrow," Quintana recognised that he would be in for a very tough stage on Saturday.
"More than Alberto [Contador - Tinkoff], I reckon that Orica-BikeExchange" - now running fourth overall with Esteban Chaves and sixth with Simon Yates - "will pull out all the stops. I'm sure I'll get attacked and I'll have to put up a good defence. But in the end, the only one I really have to watch is Chris."
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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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