Sky’s Chris Froome says that he decided on a “measured effort” to control his rivals despite the fear that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was riding away with the Vuelta a España title in Monday’s summit finish to Lagos de Covadonga.
Froome dropped behind the other favourites with nine kilometres left up the 12.2-kilometre climb. His team-mates David Lopez and Pete Kennaugh paced him as the gap grew to 45 seconds. Quintana went solo and Froome began to chase. One by one, he passed every rival except for Quintana.
With the 24 seconds gained and six seconds in bonus, Quintana took 31 seconds on Froome. The Colombian leads the race by 57 seconds over Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde and 58 over Froome.
“I think at this point I really have to calculate my efforts,” Froome said as he just stepped off his on his turbo trainer outside Sky’s black bus and still wore a heavy black Rapha jacket.
“Like I saw a couple of days ago, when I really got stuck into the climb earlier on, I paid for it afterwards. Today was a more measured effort. Also in the past, every time I have ridden this climb, I have blown, so I feel like today was a better effort than I have done in the past.”
Froome began his return with six kilometres to race. He caught and dropped Orica-BikeExchange’s Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates. He reached Valverde and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). He quickly discarded Contador and with one kilometre left, dislodged Valverde.
Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) held on from an early escaped to take second and the precious bonus seconds. Froome placed third and took four seconds in bonus. He would not say that he cracked, but that he read his body and rode accordingly.
“I just rode the climb in the most efficient way to get up there according to how the legs are feeling. Obviously, Nairo is in great form and we seen that in the last few days,” Froome said.
“A moment of weakness? Regardless of what was going on, I was just riding the pace that I felt was most appropriate for that climb, for a 30- or 35-minute effort. I could see that the guys I was going by we’re at the front and maybe had blown a bit.”
Froome fired back as if he was racing up the Mont Ventoux climb as Quintana pedalled smoothly into the red leader’s jersey.
“I was hearing on the radio that Quintana was a good 40 seconds up the road, that was pretty tough too,” Froome said. “That and not having to chase after that and respond straight away. But at this point in this season coming after the Tour or the Olympics, I’m just hanging on to what I have left. I’m trying to get through the best I can.”
In Froome’s favour, after tomorrow’s rest day, the race climbs the Peña Cabarga on Wednesday. He won his first grand tour stage on that climb in the 2011 Vuelta and gave a hint of the Tour de France wins that would follow. Also, after a series of mountain stages, he can savour a 37-kilometre time trial in stage 19.
“I have to hope that over the next few days I will find an opportunity to go for it or just to defend the position that I’m in and wait for the TT,” he added.
“[58 seconds] is a big gap. If I can get more time back that would obviously be ideal, but if not, I will have to make due with what I have.”
Froome greeted a few fans and shook helper Christian Knees’s hand to say thanks before climbing on the bus that took him towards the Vuelta’s first, and much needed, rest day.