The first high altitude finish of this Vuelta was a good one for Alberto Contador. His was the decisive attack of the day, which dislodged a number of high-flying rivals from the front group. He finished sixth in the stage, won by Miguel Angel López, and leapfrogged four places in the General Classification. He now lies 9th overall, 3 minutes 55 seconds behind race leader Christopher Froome.
On the finish line, Contador said, “It has been a very hard day with a lot of rain from the start, a shame since we're so close to [seaside resort] Almeria. I have only lost a few seconds, to Vincenzo [Nibali] above all, but I have made up time on a lot of rivals.”
The day followed yesterday's script, with a long, wet and very fast first hour before a breakaway finally escaped the peloton's clutches.
Jarlinson Pantano said, “I tried to get into the breakaway, and then, after several attempts, we reached the flat part of the stage and the breakaway of the day went. Our job was then to stay with Alberto as far as possible into the mountains. On the Alto de Velefique, Orica started pulling to break up the race form a long way out to benefit Chaves, and it certainly iput more than one rider into the red even before the final climb. I brought Alberto water, and then I tried to stay with him until the final climb.”
The breakaway of 14 grew thinner on the Alto del Velefique, and by the foot of the final 15.5km climb up to the finish line in the shadow of Calar Alto Astronomical Observatory, just four riders remained in front. They were chased by a peloton of about 40 which contained most of the overall favourites, including Contador, together with his support riders Pantano and Peter Stetina. That large group picked off the survivors of the breakaway group.
With 11 km to go, on the steep lower slopes of the Category 1 climb, Alberto Contador launched a characteristic attack, with only Nibali on his wheel.
Alberto explained, “I could see that a lot of riders were on the ropes. It was an opportunity not to be wasted, otherwise they could have ridden on the wheels. So, instead of waiting for the finish, I preferred to make a move a bit earlier to break up the group and shake off some of the favourites.”
With 7.5 km to go, the Contador group caught the last of the breakaway riders, Bardet and Atapuma, to form a ten-man group at the front of the race. An attack from Nibali seemed to put Froome in some difficulty.
Contador said, “Nieve was following Nibali but they called him back. I think perhaps he [Froome] was in a bit of discomfort. But we know what he's like: he takes a second to recover, and that's what he did.”
Inside the final 2km, Nibali launched another attack, splitting the leading group, with Contador on the wrong side of the gap. López counter-attacked, to win the stage, with Froome and Nibali second and third. Contador crossed the line 31 seconds after López and 17 seconds after the Red Jersey.
Contador jumped Roche, Van Garderen, Oomen and Adam Yates in the GC, and gained time on De La Cruz, Woods, Aru, Chaves. Asked whether, from the heights of the colossal telescopes at Calar Alto, a place on the podium might just be in sight, Alberto observed, “This Vuelta is all about consistency. There are days where you can lose a lot of time. But, well, despacito despacito [slowly, slowly…]!.”