Chris Froome is seeking every opportunity to gain time of Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde in the remaining stages of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana

Chris Froome (Sky) is picking his moments to attack his Spanish rivals with time running out in the 2014 Vuelta a España. Yesterday, he earned 20 seconds, moved to second place and helped himself to forget about crashing out of the Tour de France.

“There was some cat-and-mouse,” Froome said, “but I found my right moment, attacked and caught the rest off guard.”

In stage 18, with only three left to race, Froome zoomed past his rivals, including race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and former second overall Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). His ‘moment’ was just after an attack by Fabio Aru (Astana) with five kilometres to race – mostly uphill on Monte Castrove, but with the last 700 metres downhill – when the Spaniards hesitated momentarily.

He held a gap of 15 to 10 seconds with Aru, which locked in at 13 seconds when the duo zipped over the line. Aru held Froome’s wheel in the last kilometre and shot past for his second stage win. Froome placed one second back, 12 ahead of his rivals, but with times bonuses, he jumped ahead of Valverde from third to second overall. He now trails Contador by 1-19 minutes and leads Valverde by 13 seconds.

Froome showed in northern Spain that he is willing to take every opportunity to take Contador’s red jersey before the race ends on Sunday. Prior to the attack, he also took bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint that helped move him 20 seconds closer to Contador.

“We’d spoken with Chris about how, if he felt good, it could be a good opportunity to get time on Valverde and possibly Contador,” Sky sports director, Dario Cioni said.

“The other GC guys attacked early on the climb because Chris went for the [intermediate bonus] seconds, but in the end he was strong enough to do both.”

Froome will need both brains and brawn to overtake Contador before Sunday’s final in Santiago de Compostela. Though today finishes with a small climb before the end, the next big test comes on Saturday with the 12.7-kilometre summit finish on Puerto de Ancares. After Thursday’s stage, anything appears possible.

Win or not, Froome achieved his goal of stretching his Grand Tour legs and reaching top condition after a crash forced him to abandon the Tour de France early with broken bones in his left wrist and right hand.