Here's what got us talking during an exciting stage of the 2016 Vuelta a España

Froome’s challenge is dealt a huge blow

A bad day for Chris Froome. Photo: Graham Watson

A bad day for Chris Froome. Photo: Graham Watson

At the start of the day, Chris Froome (Team Sky) was sitting second on the general classification at 58 seconds. With a time trial still to come he was very much still in the frame for the win, and the historic Tour-Vuelta double.

Things look a lot different after stage 15, however, as the Tour de France champion shipped the best part of three minutes to Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

>>> Nairo Quintana tightens grip on Vuelta a España as Chris Froome loses ground on stage 15

Team Sky were caught napping near the start of the 120km stage and soon found themselves way down on the lead group, which included some big names as well as the race leader.

What’s more, some of the British team’s riders weren’t even in the same group as their leader so couldn’t assist with the chase.

In the end, all of Team Sky – apart from Froome – finished the stage over 20 minutes down on the day’s winner.

Riders in the chase group let Froome do a lot of work and it showed when he was unable to make in roads into his deficit on the summit finish.

Froome will now have to take the race to his rivals and cannot rely on just the time trial to take the overall win.

Quintana looks every bit the champion

Nairo Quintana didn't need any assistance on the final climb. Photo: Graham Watson

Nairo Quintana didn’t need any assistance on the final climb. Photo: Graham Watson

Quintana did not start the move that proved decisive to this short stage, but he was alive to the danger of it.

Seeing eventual stage winner Gialuca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step) attack first after just three kilometres, followed by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) put the hammer down after six kilometres, Quintana forged ahead with the move and took a couple of teammates with him.

The lead group soon had a comfortable time advantage over the likes of Froome and the group settled into a rhythm for the rest of the stage.

Hitting the foot of the final climb, Quintana looked around to see if anyone was going to ride but realised he’d get no assistance from those left.

>>> More than 90 riders finish over 22 minutes outside of time cut at Vuelta a España

Showing why he’s leading this race – and now why he’ll probably win it overall – the Colombian set a rapid pace on the front of the lead group and shelled everyone except Brambilla.

The Etixx rider got the better of Quintana in the final 100 metres and took the stage win, but the red jersey gained hugely and extended his overnight lead of 58 seconds to a much more unassailable margin of 3-37 to Froome.

Contador’s chances of a podium finish receive a boost

Alberto Contador has a discussion with Nairo Quintana. Photo: Graham Watson

Alberto Contador has a discussion with Nairo Quintana. Photo: Graham Watson

Active in getting the lead group away, Contador committed to the move and drove the pace in the early kilometres.

The hard work took its toll on the final climb as he dropped out of contention for the line honours and eventually came over in fifth, but the time gained has moved the Tinkoff team leader to within a wheel’s length of the podium.

More attacking riding like that and a decent time trial could see the three-time Vuelta a España winner at least make the podium this time round.

One of the best Grand Tour stages in recent memory

Gianluca Brambilla wins stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

Gianluca Brambilla wins stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

An early break goes clear, nothing new there. Except this break included the present red jersey, a three-time overall winner and was lacking the one rider who could probably overturn the race leader’s advantage.

Add in the capitulation of a team that is usually in total control at a Grand Tour and this stage was always going to be one to remember.

Much credit should go to the organisers for throwing in a brutal, but short, stage at this point in the race because it shook things up more than anyone could have imagined.

Then, once the time gap from the initial attack had been established the stage didn’t fizzle out with a bland ending thanks to Quintana leading the way up the final climb and Brambilla passing him for the stage win; just reward for kick starting proceedings about 127km back down the road.

There are still six stages to go

It's a long way to Madrid... Photo: Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto

It’s a long way to Madrid… Photo: Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto

Quintana does now look set to win his first Vuelta a España, but it’s not a done deal. There are still six stages left, including the final day procession, which will see the riders conquer a further two summit finishes and the all important time trial.

It wasn’t until stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta that Fabio Aru (Astana) rode himself into the overall win. Something similar could well take place this year.

Whatever happens between now and the final finish line in Madrid in a week’s time, the viewing public are certainly in for some great spectating as riders reach out for stage wins and others try to consolidate their position in the general classification.