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Vuelta a Espana: Tenacious Froome locks onto GC train on Mas de la Costa

Brief surges by Vuelta a España leader Nairo Quintana on the ultra-steep final climb of Mas de la Costa on Wednesday's stage 17 saw Chris Froome (Sky) briefly gapped but then claw his way back up to the favourites with unfailing regularity.

Quintana's hardest acceleration on the cement tracks of Mas de la Costa came 1.1 kilometres from the line, and Froome, second overall, slipped behind. But as the Briton explained afterwards, it was all about pacing himself and allowing himself to race the climb in his own way.

Sure enough, even as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was making one last attempt to break free of the other two contenders, Froome was able to return to the fray, passing Quintana and Chaves on the line to finish 25th. Overall, he remains at 3:37 behind Quintana with four stages left to race.

"It was another day for us just to mark each other really as GC contenders and see if anyone was having a bad day coming out of the rest day, but it looked like everyone was up there and pretty alert," Froome told a small group of reporters at the team bus.

On Thursday there is a lengthy trek through hilly terrain in the region of Valencia, running 200.6 kilometres from Requena to Gandia but Froome argued that the time trial is now looming fast on his personal horizon.

"From our side, it's business as usual, now that we're behind, we're not necessarily going to be trying any crazy sort of tactics to try and make up that time. We've got a way of racing and an approach and we'll stick to that for now and we'll focus on the time trial."

As for how he'd handled the climb itself, Froome said, "The legs felt all right, me personally I am thinking about the day after tomorrow and the time trial. It was a typical brutal climb up to the finish, a typical Vuelta climb, with really steep ramps. But it was just about pacing and trying to ride within myself, but also keeping an eye on the main contenders."

One reporter said that Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford had paid tribute to Froome's mental strength and that Froome's ability to dig deep and ride back to a group having been dropped was an exceedingly rare one. Did Froome himself see it like that?

"I've definitely got a different approach to most guys, I do try not to let it affect me when I see my rivals riding away and distancing me," Froome argued.

"I think a lot of people do get disheartened in that sort of position, maybe that is a strength I do have, I try to keep motivated and try to keep pacing myself." On Mas de la Costa, that strategy worked out well.

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