LA VELLA, Andorra (VN) — Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) feels “weak” and other stars already are in the red before the 2017 Vuelta a España begins its first of nine summit finishes.
Sky’s Chris Froome took control of the Spanish grand tour Monday — he leads by two seconds — and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won stage 3 to the Andorra principality. It was not a summit finish, but climbs beforehand left riders scattered across the road.
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Spain’s Contador, a three-time winner of his home tour, finished 2:33 behind. He had told his teammates Peter Stetina and Jesús Hernández to ride on without him such were his feelings.
“I had very bad sensations, also climbing La Rabassa [the penultimate climb], I saw it already,” explained Contador.
“I don’t know what happen to me but I felt super, super weak. Even when we went at a relatively calm pace, it was difficult to be there. I hope that is only a bad day, maybe because the lack of competition after the Tour. The most important thing now is to recover and try to find the reason of this performance.”
Contador suffered crashes and switched focus on stage wins in the Tour de France this July. However, he could not make his normal ‘Pistolero’ attacks stick. After the Tour, the 34-year-old decided to retire earlier than planned, saying this Vuelta would be his last race.
The mountain stage from France into Andorra could have quashed any hopes of the star winning an eighth grand tour title. After the Rabassa, Contador faded quickly under Team Sky’s pressure on the shorter 4.3-kilometer Comella climb that left 7.1 kilometers to the finish.
“I want to enjoy this Vuelta in any case,” he added. “I’m the most relaxed in my whole career in this Vuelta. I will not abandon this race and I will stay here to enjoy it. Yes, this is a huge blow, but I hope to bounce back.”
Frenchman Warren Barguil, winner of two stages and the mountains competition in the Tour, faded on the final Comella climb. His Dutch Sunweb teammate Wilco Kelderman cramped. They both lost 1:14. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) lost 1:14 too. Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) lost 54 seconds.
“It was one of those days,” Froome said in the red leader’s jersey. “It was good to put the pressure on to see where those people are at after the tour and see who’s here to fight for this GC and who is not up to speed yet.”
Froome appears ready to fight. So too do Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Nibali, who joined him after his attack on the final climb. For others, the stage through the Pyrenees, could have already ended their their Vuelta hopes before the first summit finish.
“Suffering from a cold does not help,” Kruijswijk said. “I had hoped it would have been over by Saturday. “This cold must disappear. Then the right shape will return. It’s annoying, but stages like [that] prove that there is a lot of potential in this Vuelta. I’ll keep trying.”
“[Stage 3] didn’t end up being such a good day,” Kelderman said. “I cramped just before the last climb, but the guys did a really good job in supporting me. I’m disappointed with how the day played out, but we still have three more weeks to come.”