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ALTO DE HAZALLANAS, Spain (AFP) — Alberto Contador took a firm grip of the Ruta del Sol in Andalusia after storming to a clear victory in Friday’s third stage to extend his overall lead over Chris Froome to 27 seconds.
The 157.6-kilometer stage from Motril to Alto de Hazallanas was the first summit finish for either Contador or Froome this season, and the Spaniard was too strong for the 2013 Tour de France winner on the steep incline.
Contador announced his intention to retire at the end of 2016 season earlier this week, but he wants to become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same season before he bows out.
The 32-year-old looked in fine form as he broke clear at the start of the challenging eight-kilometer final climb to leave the competition in his wake and seal the victory.
“It was an important stage and I didn’t want to let it go by without trying to win it,” Contador said after the stage. “We have worked very hard over the winter to make sure we don’t miss out on anything, although there are very good riders in this race.”
Froome was not even in the initial chasing group when Contador attacked, but got stronger as the climb went on to finish 19 seconds behind in second. France’s Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) was third, 1:41 back on Contador. Second place was enough to move Froome up to second in the general classification, 1:32 ahead of Benat Intxausti (Movistar), who rolled in fourth on the day.
“I’m really happy with how it went,” Froome told TeamSky.com. “Obviously it’s hard getting beaten and hard coming second to Alberto. I know for the work I’ve done coming in I’m really happy that I was up there today. All the hard training this winter is paying off now.
“My objective is to be really good later on in the season, building towards the Tour in the next few months,” he said. “Alberto’s race program is ahead of mine with the Giro set to be his first big target of the year. I’m really happy with where I’m at right now. There’s a lot of headway to make but there’s plenty more to come, and this is a great place for me to begin the season.”
Saturday’s fourth and penultimate stage also includes a summit finish at the end of a 199.8km ride from Maracena to Alto de las Allanadas.