Vuelta a Espana leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has expressed his disappointment that the lack of collaboration between himself, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) meant that Chris Froome (Sky) is still in the running for the overall.
Froome was not looking as strong as at the Camperona on stage 14, constantly falling behind the trio of Spanish favourites. However each time it looked as if they had managed to distance him, the Briton tenaciously dug deep and reduced the gap to a handful of seconds.
If Froome’s determination was partly responsible for his staying in contention, so too, was a lack of collaboration between the Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez trio. As televison commentators pointed out, they could effectively have reduced the Vuelta battle to a three-way fight.
The net result was that Valverde and Rodriguez managed to drop Contador and claim second and third, with a five second margin on the race leader. But Contador, in turn, crossed the line a comparatively paltry seven seconds up on Froome, who remains in third overall, tied on time with Rodriguez.
“We didn’t work together at a point when it was vital to try to distance him,” Contador said afterwards. “This was a really good opportunity and even if I did manage to get some time, it could have been more.”
“At the same time, I was watching Valverde and Rodriguez, they’re very fast in the sprints. But Froome is, for me, the strongest rider I’ve ever come across in my career. Between here and Santiago we’ll see how big an opportunity it was that we’ve lost.”
Contador said that the three had talked, but only a little, about working together. “Rodriguez kept on trying to change his speed a lot, then I started keeping something back too, and it all got a bit complicated.”
“If I had been alone, I might have got a better gap” he mused. However Contador was unable to shed Valverde or Rodriguez, despite several intense attacks on the last part of the Lagos de Covadonga climb. Those accelerations were not prolonged enough to allow him to go clear.
Overall, Contador was satisfied with having got through another tough day in the mountains, considering he started the race with no idea whether he could fight for the overall.
“I’m pleased, my legs are responding well and day by day, we’re getting closer to Santiago. But my advantage is minimal and it could all change in a moment.”
The two hardest days left, he said, will be tomorrow’s stage to Somiedo, with 4,500 metres of vertical climbing and then stage 20 to Ancares. “They will both be complicated, and right now I prefer to rest and not think about them too much,” he concluded.
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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