Alberto Contador's chance of winning the 2016 Vuelta a España hit a significant setback on Friday when he fell in the final 500 metres of stage seven to Puebla de Sanabria. Left angry and frustrated at the end of the day, the Tinkoff leader conceded that a Vuelta victory would be "very difficult now".
Contador's team appeared in control leading into the final kilometre of the sprint stage, which was won by Jonas Van Genechten (IAM Cycling). However, in one of the last curves of the day, the Spaniard lost control and fell.
"My left side hurts a lot," he said. "Someone hit me and I fell. It will be very difficult now."
Upset and in the 35°C heat at the finish, the three-time Vuelta winner threw his water bottle down to the ground in anger.
Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R) was at the centre of controversy after the stage. He was accused of making a dangerous move in the final run-in and caused Tosh Van Der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) to take down Contador. Immediately after the finish, Van Der Sande yelled at Bagdonas, "You're an idiot!"
The problem now is that Contador will have to face some hard days while feeling sore. Tomorrow, the race climbs its third summit finish, the 8.5-kilometre La Camperona.
For rivals such as Team Sky's Chris Froome, Contador's misfortune can only be to their advantage.
"It depends on how severe the injuries are, but a crash is never something that is good for days to come," Froome said. "It is always going to have a knock-on effect. We will see. There have been a lot of crashes in these last couple of days."
It has been a difficult year for Contador. He crashed twice in the first two days of the Tour de France and had to abandon after one week. And after losing time in the first few stages, his home tour appears to be going just as poorly, or worse.
Stage seven appeared to be a typical finish; Tinkoff did not want to go for the win, but they attempted to minimise the chance of their leader crashing by riding at the front. The number of GC teams doing so in other races, including the Tour de France, has caused some concern as it can lead to some chaotic sprints.
"Obviously, he is up there with all the GC guys trying to stay safe," Tinkoff sports director, Sean Yates said. "There has been a lot of discussion for some while about this. Here and especially in the Dauphiné, when there are no big sprint teams, it is just up to the GC guys to lead out, and with that comes big risk.
"We knew the final was tricky and the goal was to be in the right place. We have two guys that are good at that: [Daniele] Bennati and [Michael] Gogl. They were right up there. With no big sprinters teams here it was that much easier to get in the right position. But you can't account for incidents.
"There's nothing, broken but obviously he's cut up."
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