Froome wiped off the grit and put on a fresh leader’s red jersey after the climb to 340 metres. He sits on top of the classification table with 10 seconds, up from two, on American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and 11 on Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott).
“I don’t think the red jersey was really in danger,” Froome said. “We were always in control of the situation. I was also surprised that no other teams were interested in riding for the stage today.”
The other teams saw their stars slip behind. David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) dropped away from second place overall, Adam and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) lost time, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (Astana).
BMC Racing for Nicolas Roche and van Garderen were the only team of note to take over from the Sky train while the escape seven minutes ahead raced for the stage win, with Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) taking the spoils.
“Chaves seems to be one of the strongest climbers in this Vuelta. Tejay and Roche are both still in the mix, and they have a few cards to play,” Froome continued.
“I was surprised to see Nibali and Aru to lose a bit of time today, and Romain Bardet. But it’s a long race, and today was just a three-kilometre climb, and it will be a different race once we get into the high mountains,” Froome added.
“Looking at the time gaps now, the GC is taking a bit more shape. I can be happy with that result today, and the work my team-mates did.
“Gianni [Moscon] has been incredibly impressive. We already saw after the past few years how strong he’s been in the one-day Classics.
“This is his first Grand Tour, and I have to say he’s doing an amazing job so far. Both in Andorra and again today he’s completely blown up the peloton. Even for me to stay on his wheel, it’s not been easy.”
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) bounced back with a strong performance on the final climb. He joined Froome, Canadian Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), Chaves and van Garderen to ride clear in the final curves with only van Garderen distanced as the line neared.
“Chaves showed he’s one of the strongest climbs so far in the race,” Froome added. “Last year, he rode extremely well, and I am imagine this year he will be up there again. The TT is not really in his favour.
“I’m feeling really good. It’s hard for me say if I am better or worse than at the Tour. It’s important to say that I am feeling good today, and I am going to take it day to day in this Vuelta.”