Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) – already a three-time winner of the Vuelta a España – suffered to others like Chris Froome when the 2016 race faced the 30% ramps of the Mirador de Ézaro on Monday’s stage three on Spain’s northwest coast.
Sky’s Chris Froome, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) rode clear. They placed 26 seconds behind French winner Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), but more importantly, 28 seconds ahead of the most dangerous Grand Tour riders.
At the top, only at 260 metres, it took Contador some time to catch his breath. The Mirador de Ézaro’s gradients were like a wall of suffering for the Spaniard from Madrid’s outskirts.
“In the end, I do not know if the heat, but I couldn’t follow the rhythm and I didn’t have the legs,” Contador said. “On the section of 30%, my heart rate was at 200 beats.”
Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) leads Valverde by seven seconds, Froome by 11, Chaves and Quintana by 17. Contador, who lost time in the opening team time trial, sits 12th at 1-31 minutes.
Stage three, amazingly, was only the first of 10 summit finishes. Contador, to his credit, should perform better on the softer ramps that are to come, instead of on the ‘walls’ like Mirador de Ézaro.
He added, “I will not throw in the towel, we should expect more opportunities.”
Sports Director Steven De Jongh, after leaving Sky, guided Contador through the Grand Tours. They last won the 2015 Giro d’Italia together. This year, they focused on the Tour, but crashes in the first two stages forced him to pull the plug early.
“It was crazy steep at the finish, but it was a hard day with the heat as well and a lot of people suffered,” said De Jongh.
“Alberto didn’t have the power to follow but he really feels confident for this race and is motivated for the what’s to come, so he’s not down after today. We have to continue going step by step.”
The Vuelta travels up Spain’s northwest coast on stage four for another summit finish, the Alto Mirador Vixía de Herbeira. The road climbs 11.2 kilometres, with an average gradient of 4.8%.
Contador said, “I feel that my form will improve in the coming days.”