Froome rode with superiority in the Tour de France that the others could not match. In the second half, riders were racing for places on the podium, and no longer for Froome’s yellow jersey. Some complained that it was boring, nothing like this Vuelta so far.
“It’s definitely good for the race and it makes for good racing,” Froome said of the chase after Quintana on Monday. “I didn’t actually see much yesterday at all! He was too far up the road.
“It is good for the sport and it does make for good viewing. It’s good for the race. Of course, I would love to be in the same position that I had in the Tour, but that is unfortunately not the case. Of course, I would rather be 10 minutes ahead but that’s not reality.”
Froome rode a heavy schedule after accepting his third Tour de France winner’s vase in Paris on July 24. He raced criteriums, the RideLondon-Surrey Classic and in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, both the road race and a bronze-medal time trial.
Quintana, who struggled and managed third in the Tour, rested in Colombia at altitude and returned only for the Vuelta. As a result, the 2014 Giro d’Italia champion appears better and Froome appears to be tiring – which produces a thrilling classification race.
The essential guide to the Vuelta a España
Froome rode a slower pace at first and then clawed back all of his rivals bar Quintana over the last six kilometres of the Lagos de Covadonga climb to finish 31 seconds behind. Quintana won the stage and took the red leader’s jersey. He leads Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde by 57 seconds and Froome by 58. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) sits at 2-09 minutes and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) at 2-54.
“I have a lot of respect for [Quintana] as a bike rider. And as a rival. He’s definitely lifted himself after the Tour and he’s obviously had quite a bit more downtime. He’s obviously come here ready.”
Froome, who sat in the hotel’s lobby already dressed in his black kit for a training ride, paused to consider what sits apart Quintana from his other rivals.
“He is a lot less about the show. He doesn’t do these great big attacks for the TV,” Froome added. “He doesn’t cave under the pressure of the public, he just focuses on his own race. If he feels, good he pushes on and if not, he will sit in the wheels like you did in the Tour.”
The race continues on Wednesday with the Peña Cabarga summit finish, where Froome won his first Grand Tour stage in 2011 and began to show to the world his grand tour abilities.