Tour of Spain: Chris Froome closes on leader but Alberto Contador hits higher gear
Chris Froome's bid to become Britain's first ever winner of the Tour of Spain remains very much alive after yesterday's 39.5km (25-mile) time trial when he closed the gap on the overall race leader Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain from 53 seconds to a mere 16sec.
Regrettably the good news stopped there for Froome. While Rodriguez's hold on the lead is proving more tenacious than anybody – including the Spaniard himself – had expected, Froome actually slipped from second to third in the general classification as one of the world's best stage racers, Alberto Contador, overhauled him to move to within one second of Rodriguez.
Contador had struggled on one of the hillier stages last week but seemed to be getting stronger on Saturday's mountain-top finish at Andorra, where he dropped Froome close to the summit. It is now a question of whether Contador's form keeps on improving.
"There's everything to play for – with that little time between the top three, it's not over by any means," Froome insisted, after finishing a course apparently designed by someone allergic to straight roads and determined to keep the riders' concentration at an absolute maximum throughout.
Yesterday could not have been more different from the relatively straightforward Olympic time-trial course where Froome netted a bronze medal this month. The 25 miles first twisted and turned its way through a maze of Galician coastal backroads, then climbed steadily for six miles to the summit of the Monte Grove climb and finally plunged down 1,500 feet on a spine-chillingly narrow and winding lane to the fishing port of Pontevedra.
"I was struggling at times on the climb, I couldn't keep the speed I wanted and I didn't feel super" the Sky rider, who finished in third, 39sec behind the Swedish time-trial specialist Fredrik Kessiakoff, with Contador 22sec ahead of the Briton.
"So I'm disappointed because I wanted to win, but I have no regrets, I did the best I could throughout. And it's still very close overall."
Froome at least is hardened to this sort of nail-bitingly tight scenario at the top of a Grand Tour hierarchy, given that he lost the Tour of Spain last year by a mere 13sec to a local rider, Juan Jose Cobo. But British hopes that Froome would open up a big gap yesterday on his three Spanish opponents – Rodriguez, Contador and Alejandro Valverde – were sadly misplaced.
Instead, Rodriguez put up a surprisingly strong defence of his overall lead while Contador managed, slowly but surely, to put those 22sec between himself and Froome. Rodriguez is a fine climber so was suited by yesterday's course and was delighted to finish just 59sec behind Contador.
As a result, the Vuelta a Espana has now developed from what was expected, before yesterday's time trial, to be a straight two-way fight between Froome and Contador, on paper the better performers against the clock, to a three-sided battle with Rodriguez. And as Froome pointed out, Valverde, who is just 59sec behind, cannot be ruled out either.
Today's stage to the Mirador de Ezaro climb, a viciously steep two-mile ascent in a remote corner of north-west Galicia, could start to clarify the overall classification. But it is more likely that the race will have to wait until it reaches the three successive high mountain stages in Galicia and Asturias at the weekend for a definitive hierarchy to emerge.
"The Tour of Spain has only just begun," Contador, the top stage racer of the last five years, pronounced solemnly after yesterday's action. "And we're moving into my terrain." Froome, however, remains determined to give him, and the other Spaniards, a serious run for their money.
Latest in Sport
Petr Cech demands talks over Chelsea future as Thibaut Courtois begs him to stay – as mentor
Angel Di Maria: Manchester United to push ahead with £50m move for Real Madrid winger
Marcos Rojo to Manchester United: Sporting Lisbon confirm deal with Nani heading back to Portugal on loan
Arsenal player ratings vs Besiktas
Besiktas vs Arsenal player ratings: Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Calum Chambers - who was the Gunners star man?
- 1 The way the police have treated Cliff Richard is completely unacceptable
- 2 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 3 Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police shoot and kill second young black man
- 4 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 5 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...
£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...
Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...