Chris Froome (Team Sky) remains confident of securing overall victory in the Vuelta a España in Madrid on Sunday despite losing 42 seconds to main rival Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) on the brutally steep climb to the Los Machucos summit.
Although his lead now stands at just 1-16 over the Italian with just three crucial days left, Froome insisted, “this is a great position to be in.”
The Team Sky leader added: “We knew this would be a tough finish, especially in this wet weather. But there are just three days left now, the team is in great shape and I’m feeling good too.”
Froome said prior to the stage 16 time trial that anyone making an all-out effort in that test would likely pay a price 24 hours later at Los Machucos, and victory in that stage may well have cost him on the Cantabrian climb that was tackled by the Vuelta for the first time.
“It was a typical Vuelta summit finish. Obviously, it’s the same for everyone, but I don’t think anyone enjoys ramps that are 25 per cent and more,’ said Froome.
Asked about losing ground to key rivals, the Sky leader admitted, “it’s never good to lose time, but I’m confident that we can get the job done.”
Froome’s losses might have been greater but for teammate Mikel Nieve’s hugely impressive pace-making in the closing three kilometres. The Spaniard acknowledged that the wet and misty conditions as the race moved into the mountains close to the Atlantic coast had made things more difficult.
“You could be barely see coming down the first descent. We stayed up front to avoid danger,” said Nieve. “The strongest were up front on the final climb. Maybe these very steep finales are not the best for us.
“In the end, we played with the margin we had on time. We lost a little, but we still have the leader’s jersey. That’s the most important thing.”
Fellow team-mate Gianni Moscon said the time loss meant it had been “a little bit of a bad day” for Froome and Team Sky “but the gap is still big so we’re not worried. We still feel safe. We are looking forward to the next few days with a lot of confidence.”