Five talking points from stage 17 of the Vuelta a España

Nairo Quintana tried to seal the Vuelta a España title on stage 17 but a huge effort by Chris Froome meant the Sky man is still in contention

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Chris Froome still has a slim chance

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 17

Chris Froome on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Nairo Quintana almost delivered the knockout blow to Chris Froome on stage 17, but the Team Sky man’s glass jaw ensured he stayed in (distant) contention for the Vuelta a España title.

We’re seeing the complete opposite Quintana to the one we saw at the Tour de France in July. Here he is relentlessly throwing down attacks on the key climbs to put his rivals under pressure.

Froome, like Quintana at the Tour, couldn’t contend with the Colombian’s change of pace on Wednesday’s stage – aided by Alberto Contador and Esteban Chaves, who started the elite move.

But unlike Quintana in France, Froome managed to work his way back up to the small group and ensure he lost no more time on the Movistar man.

Three-and-a-half minutes is a big deficit to have with so few stages left, but as we saw at the Giro d’Italia in May, anything can happen between now and Madrid on Sunday.

Friday’s time trial should see Froome gain some time back on Quintana, but not enough to overhaul him in the standings, meaning the battle will go down to Saturday’s final summit finish.

This Vuelta doesn’t get any easier

Nairo Quintana on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Nairo Quintana on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

The Vuelta a España is tough every year, but this year the route seems even more unrelenting than usual. So much so that you wouldn’t have been surprised if the organisers just cancelled the second rest day on Tuesday and forced the riders to climb a few mountains instead.

For the most part, stage 17 wasn’t so tough. The peloton let the breakaway go and the pace wasn’t the highest we’ve seen in the race. But when you saw what was coming at the end you’d forgive the riders for taking it a little easy.

The final climb was only four kilometres in length, but with gradients rarely dropping below 15 per cent it was enough to sort the contenders from the pretenders.

It was a typically Spanish climb – incredibly steep, narrow and on a road of debatable quality.

Robert Gesink, third on the stage, actually went out and climbed it on Tuesday’s rest day, setting the Strava KOM up it in the process. His practise paid off, as he got in the breakaway and made the podium on the climb.

IAM Cycling’s dream final season continues

Before this season, IAM Cycling were very much the hangers-on in the WorldTour. The ones who were at every race but were never really any threat to win anything big.

Such a reputation and lack of results inevitably meant their sponsors decided to pull their backing and the announcement that the team was going to fold was made midway through the Giro in May.

The very next day, Roger Kluge sprinted to a surprise victory to take IAM’s very first Grand Tour stage win. That in itself would constitute a good season for one of the smaller teams in the WorldTour, but they weren’t done there.

Jarlinson Pantano doubled that tally with a great win at the Tour de France and they’ve now added two more at the Vuelta a España. Only four other teams have won stages at all three Grand Tours this year, with IAM joining Etixx-Quick Step (nine overall), Team Sky (four), Orica-GreenEdge (four) and Movistar (three) in the elite group.

And we’re not done yet – can they win another stage between now and Sunday?

Konig is putting himself in the shop window

Ignore Sunday’s horrorshow and Leopold Konig has had a very impressive Vuelta a España. Until that fateful stage the Czech rider sat fifth overall, slipping to 31st by finishing second to last on Sunday.

After the rest day, though, Konig was allowed to get out in the breakaway and didn’t disappoint his Sky team, finishing second on the climb.

Konig appears to still be without a contract for the 2017 season, with Team Sky seemingly willing to let the climber go after injuries restricted him to less than 30 days of racing before the Vuelta.

Performances like this will do his stock no harm, especially if a team is searching for a reliable GC contender in the three-week races, although places on WorldTour teams are few and far between this late in the season.

Contador wants that podium place

Alberto Contador attacks on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Alberto Contador attacks on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Of the things we’ll miss when Alberto Contador retires, the Spaniard’s relentless desire to attack will be very high on the list.

His chances of winning the Vuelta are pretty much gone, but Contador is still lighting up the races trying to move himself into a podium place.

In this day and age of GC contenders waiting until the final kilometres of the final climb to eek out a handful of seconds in a three-week war of attrition, it’s refreshing to see Contador holding on to the old-school attacking mentality.

He’s shown already in this race that he’s willing to attack from anywhere to shake up the peloton, going from right at the start of stage 15 to really blow the race apart.

And it was Contador to make the first move again on the final climb of stage 17. Movistar swamped the front of the peloton to try and block any potential attackers on the narrow road, but the elusive Contador found his way through and up the road.

While he didn’t make it alone, his move set up the four-way battle between himself, Quintana, Chaves and Froome that brought the end of the stage to life.