Froome clawed back attacks from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and preserved his red leader’s jersey another day in this 2017 edition. He even gained time on most of his direct rivals.
“The last climb was a bit more predictable,” Contador explained. “Nibali went but I knew that Froome would be coming back, and sure enough, he did.
“It’s normal that Froome waited back [when we attacked], he was just looking at his power output.”
Cameras and microphones edged closer to the three-time Vuelta a España winner in his last race. Further away, Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali slowed down to talk on the pass at 1830 metres.
Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the stage from an escape. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), a non-threatening classification rider, attacked from the Froome group with 1.6 kilometres remaining and raced for the stage win, but placed second.
Nibali and Contador attacked further down with just over three kilometres remaining on the summit finish to La Pandera. Froome sat calmly and allowed team-mates Mikel Nieve and Wout Poels to pace. He then pounced on his rivals.
“Froome had help, he has a great team and is able to manage it,” Nibali said. “That’s Froome’s strength.
“It’s clear, if his team-mates become a bit tired and he’s isolated, then it becomes difficult for him. In fact, in the last 100 metres, it was more difficult and more open. I tried gain as much as possible.”
As Majka celebrated, Nibali shot free in the closing stretch and to place third, and more importantly, to take the four-second time bonus. He moved from 59 seconds back in second place to 55.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) finished with the Nibali/Froome group too. Everyone else lost time. Chaves, fell from third to fifth place, losing 26 seconds.
Froome never looked in danger of losing the red jersey even if he could be sore only two days after crashing twice in stage 12.
“Not really,” Chaves said when asked if Froome showed any weaknesses on the final climb.
“He’s a super strong guy and knows how to pace it. He rode it well today. And he rode to finish with Nibali and Contador.”