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Froome: ‘Formigal is the stage we lost the Vuelta’

MADRID (VN) — A satisfied Chris Froome admitted the “ambush at Formigal” probably cost him an elusive Vuelta a España crown, but he won’t let that spoil his season.

The Sky captain will finish second in the Spanish grand tour for a third time in his career, and admitted Sunday the race was all but lost in stage 15 when eventual winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) attacked from the the gun.

“Potentially. I am sure if I didn’t lose that time there, the racing could have been different afterwards as well, but that was certainly the biggest blow for me in this Vuelta,” Froome told VeloNews outside the Sky bus. “That was the biggest time loss, more than any of the mountain stages. It could have been stage that we lost this Vuelta.”

Those time losses stung even more after Froome took back more than two minutes on Quintana in Friday’s time trial, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit.

As Froome said, if he hadn’t lost time at Formigal, that would have forced Movistar to race more aggressively to try to take more time on Froome. Yet Froome and winner Quintana were nearly evenly matched in the mountains in this Vuelta, so the losses at Formigal proved decisive, especially in light of Froome’s whopping victory at the time trial Friday in Calpe. On Saturday, Froome proudly went down swinging, attacking Quintana no less than seven times in the final climb at Alto de Aitana, but could not shake him.

Despite falling short of overall victory, Froome was in a celebratory mood Sunday.

“By far, this has been my best season,” Froome said. “The Tour was the main goal of the season, and to win for a third time was massive. And to back that up with a bronze medal at Rio was even better. To come here to finish second, and fight all the way to the end, I am very happy. Nairo was just better than me, and we have to congratulate him.”

Froome deserves credit for racing the Vuelta despite having the victory elude him yet again. Since his breakout performance in the 2011 Vuelta, a result that helped him confirm his place as a grand tour rider, he has skipped the Vuelta only once. He’s been back every year — in part to use the race as a way to usher in the upcoming season — but he is also racing to win.

Unlike many Tour champions who usually pull the plug on their season in Paris, Froome keeps racing. And during this Vuelta, it took a sharp Quintana and a very strong Movistar team, coupled with one tactical coup at Formigal, to beat him.

“We can be satisfied with this Vuelta,” Froome said. “It’s been a long season, and I fought right to the end. Hats off to Nairo. It’s a bit early to talk about next season, but have a nice rivalry going.”

With that, Froome turned to pose for photographs and signs autographs. He patiently worked the ropes before the start of the final stage, and the Spanish fans cheered his name: “Froome! Froome! Froome!”

The three-time Tour champion clearly has a warm spot in his heart for Spain, and it’s obvious that he wants to win the Vuelta. After three second places, perhaps now more than ever. As he turned to leave, he confirmed he won’t be racing the world championships in Qatar.

“No worlds this year. I think it’s a little flat for me,” he said with a smile. “We will leave that to Cav [Mark Cavendish].”

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