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It was a day where he could have moved closer to the final overall victory had Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) worked with him to distance a struggling Chris Froome.
Instead, neither rider would pull with the Tinkoff Saxo leader after the Briton was dropped, with both marking him, attacking on a couple of occasions and ultimately gaining five seconds in the final sprint to the line.
Despite this and despite the additional bonuses gained by Valverde and Rodriguez – which saw them gain eleven and nine seconds respectively – Contador said that he believed the overall victory had moved a step closer.
“We’ve missed an opportunity to distance Chris Froome,” he lamented afterwards. “Had I been alone, I would have made a difference but I also had deal with Alejandro Valverde and Purito. I spoke with Valverde but we also had to deal with Purito’s changes of rhythm. We’ve never ridden uphill at a steady pace.
“However, I feel the victory closer and closer. I’ll keep living it day by day. My advantage is really tight, notably over Valverde. Everything can change in a single stage but my legs are getting better and better. I’m very satisfied with my shape. La Farrapona tomorrow and Puerto de Ancares on Saturday are the two key stages but I’m confident.”
Valverde and Rodriguez’ actions seemed short-sighted; in marking Contador and refusing to work with him, then attacking at the end, they made small time gains. However Froome was able to limit his loses and only conceded 12 seconds to them at the line. Had the trio pulled together, it could have been far more than that.
Valverde is now 49 seconds ahead of the Briton, while Rodriguez is on the same time but fourth to his third in the general classification due to stage placings.
The race concludes with a time trial and given Froome’s history in the discipline, he could make gains on both Valverde and Rodriguez if he is on a good day.
From that point of view, their decision not to ride with Contador is perplexing.
Rodriguez’s reaction was hard to understand in this context. “A few times, we [Katusha] have set the pace and every time they attacked us. I would have enjoyed a bit more collaboration to make sure I moved up to the podium,” he said. “I would have like to go to tomorrow’s stage with a bit more of serenity and be able to race for the stage win.
“Maybe Contador wasn’t interested in riding at a steady pace. Alejandro [Valverde] knows his game. The stages on Thursday and Friday will suit him…”
Contador’s Tinkoff Saxo directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman said that Contador was ‘very strong and motivated’ in defending his lead and also in firing off attacks.
“At the end of the day he actually lost time to Valverde and Rodriguez but he gained time on Froome. It was a difficult situation tactically but I think he managed the situation very well. Tomorrow, there’s another big day in the mountains and we”ll do everything we can to maintain the lead.”