The Tour de France champion today sprinted out of the pack for a two-second intermediate bonus sprint and again at the stage three finish in Andorra La Vella, where he placed third and gained four seconds on some of his rivals.
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Stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) took 10 seconds for the stage win. Froome, however, gained the Vuelta overall lead for the first time since his Grand Tour breakthrough in 2011.
“I knew it was going to be close today which is why I went for the bonus seconds and again at the finish line with 10, six and four seconds, I knew I had to try to least get the bonus if I was going to go into the leader’s jersey,” Froome said.
“When I think back to the 2011 Vuelta a España, when I placed second by 13 seconds, it can be argued that the race was won on bonus seconds. From here on, I’m going to fight for the seconds because I know it can be a close race and I’m going to try take the bonus seconds where I can.”
Froome jumped off the front as if everyone was standing still to gain the two seconds behind his team-mate Diego Rosa who took the maximum three seconds with 13.1 kilometres to race.
The time he gained on his rivals plus the extra six seconds in bonus seconds gave him the red leader’s jersey for the first time since he lost it to Bradley Wiggins in 2011.
Froome leads the Vuelta by two seconds over David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors), Nicolas Roche and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is in fifth at 10 seconds, Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) sixth at 11, Fabio Aru (Astana) seventh at 38 and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) eighth at 39.
“Is pretty good to be in the red jersey after six years fighting to be in this position, but having said that, I’m pretty aware of how close the race is with the other rivals. Most notably Esteban Chaves was great today because he was the only guy to follow me when I went over the top of the final climb today,” Froome continued.
“I think Vincenzo Nibali focused on being ready for this year’s Vuelta. It’s still very close there’s only two seconds between myself and the next group. It’s going to be a race or I have to fight for every second at every opportunity.”
Sky lined out the race on the closing climbs. Italian riders Salvatore Puccio, Gianni Moscon and Diego Rosa blasted away on the front. Mikel Nieve, the Spaniard who helped in the Tour de France and is switching to Orica-Scott in 2018, finished it off for Froome.
“It was one of those days. It was good to put the pressure on to see where those rivals are at after the Tour and see who’s here to fight for this GC and who is not up to it,” continued Froome.
“The team was just fantastic. We took it on for the penultimate climb. Gianni is riding his first Grand Tour and put the group in bits and I had to ask him to slow down because he was dropping me as well. He was really great and the team too. I have to thank them for being the red jersey.”