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

Lopez crashes out of contention

Other Astana riders may now be given opportunities at the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

Other Astana riders may now be given opportunities at the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

Miguel Angel Lopez is carrying the responsibility of leading Astana at the Vuelta a España, but his overall chances were dealt a terminal blow when he crashed 8km from the finish.

The rider won the Tour de Suisse earlier this season which gives an indication of his ability, and with Astana‘s big name GC riders – Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru – not present in Spain, Lopez was their hope for a high place finish.

The Colombian was already on the back foot after losing time in the opening team time trial, when a dropped chain cost him time and momentum.

Cracks appeared for other riders in the GC battle, but now sitting 124th and more than 13 minutes down, he’ll need to look for stage wins to get something out of this Vuelta.

GC time gaps start to appear

Alberto Contador is now 1-20 down on Chris Froome. Photo: Graham Watson

Alberto Contador is now 1-20 down on Chris Froome. Photo: Graham Watson

Those aforementioned cracks in the performance of some of the GC riders were on show on the final, brutal climb to Mirador de Ézaro. With sections reaching towards 30%, some riders really suffered.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) were the big losers as they were left behind on the steep slopes.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) dropped Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as they neared the finish line, but the Colombian remains in the frame as he sits just six seconds off the British rider in the overall.

Could this be the Froome vs Quintana battle we’ve been waiting for?

Fingers crossed for a repeat of the attacking racing at the 2013 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson

Fingers crossed for a repeat of the attacking racing at the 2013 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson

With Froome and Quintana being the two riders who fared best out of the handful of overall hopefuls, could we finally be about to see the head-to-head we’ve been waiting for since the Tour de France in 2015, or even since they first went up against each other at the Tour in 2013.

Quintana was off his best at this season’s Tour, where Froome won convincingly, but now these two riders could be the main favourites after their rivals lost time.

The red jersey was put to work on the front

Kwiatkowski

Leader or not, Kwiatkowski was working for his team leader. Photo: Graham Watson

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) had a mixed ride as be spent his first day in the leader’s jersey of a Grand Tour.

The Pole was put to work towards the end of the stage as Team Sky stuck to their plan of working for three weeks for Froome rather than from day-to-day for the jersey.

The plan worked so far as Froome is now up to third overall and ahead of anyone who might challenge for the final red jersey, but his teammate had to rescind the overall lead to facilitate that outcome.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a Team Sky branded red jersey working for another rider at the Vuelta a España: Froome himself took an unexpected lead in 2011 but fell back in line to work for Bradley Wiggins.

In the end Froome was second and Wiggins third when the race finished.

The brutal route is living up to its billing

Alexandre Geniez fights the gradient on stage three of the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

Alexandre Geniez fights the gradient on stage three of the 2016 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

The third Grand Tour is growing in its reputation as the most gruelling of the year. The weather at the Giro d’Italia and the prestigious nature of the Tour de France can contribute to those races being hard on the riders, but the Spanish race packs in the climbs and summit finishes that make it the hardest on the competitors.

This incredibly hard summit finish – remember this is only stage three – has already seen some riders wondering where they left their legs.

The route includes nine more summit finishes and two stages in addition to those that are considered mountainous.

This will be a war of attrition, and form coming into the race will only count as far as recovery during the race allows.