CORIA DEL RIO, Spain (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) always looks at the bright side of life.
Even when he crashes, like he did in the Tour de France last year, he never became frustrated. And even in last year’s Vuelta a España, clearly short of form, he never gave up the fight in a thrilling duel with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
So it was no surprise Wednesday when he focused on what good came out of his performance in a short, but intense 8.2km time trial at the Ruta del Sol, despite losing eight seconds to archrival Contador.
“It was a good way to blow out the cobwebs. It was technical, fast, and it was a nice to have a TT in the first race of the season. It was a good gauge to see where we’re at,” Froome said. “Given the training I’ve had coming into here, I’m pretty happy with how it went. I know I lost some time to Alberto [Contador]. It’s still in February, still building up. I didn’t take any risks out there, and I used the straights to open up the legs, and the legs felt good. We’ll see how it goes the next few days.”
Froome ceded one second per kilometer to Contador as the Spaniard snagged the overall lead in the five-day Ruta del Sol in what’s being a hyped as a battle between the two superstars.
Contador was fourth on the stage, six seconds behind stage winner Javi Moreno (Movistar), and took the leader’s jersey by fractions of a second to Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing). Froome was 10th on the stage, 14 seconds slower, and slotted into fourth overall at eight seconds back. Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) is third, just one second back.
“I am happy to have the leader’s jersey, but you can’t jump to conclusions. It was a short time trial, but it’s better to be ahead than behind,” Contador said. “This thing is just starting, and we have two hard climbs, especially for this time of year. Above all, I am content because the legs felt good.”
Despite the others, all eyes are on Contador and Froome. Both camps brought their respective A-teams to the race. Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo were parked next to each other, with the local crowds pushing in around the Tinkoff bus, chanting “Alberto! Alberto! Alberto!” as Contador warmed up for the TT.
Sky had its entire arsenal of coaches and support staff buzzing around the team buses, with team boss Dave Brailsford, head coach Tim Kerrison, and performance director Rod Ellingworth all making sure Froome was firing on all pistons.
Froome downplayed the Contador rivalry, but admitted he’s still racing to win, with two climbing stages on the horizon this weekend.
“It’s nice for the public, to have this duel between us. It’s early on in the season; anything could happen. All of us are fully conscious [we] are a long way away, maybe Alberto’s are a little closer, with the Giro, and he seems to be a bit better shape,” Froome continued. “I am going to keep going for it [the overall]. The team is behind me all the way here. They did a fantastic job this morning. It’s even good for us to be practicing as a team, how to ride together, how to ride in different situations. We can take that away.”
Without finish-line time bonuses, Froome could have a hard time taking back the time from a super-motivated Contador.
Both Froome and Contador avoided disaster in the morning’s stage 1a that saw a major crash split the bunch within five kilometers of the finish line. Riders went down as teams jostled for position for the looming sprint in some heavy crosswinds, and the unfolding havoc created major gaps within the peloton. Because it was before the 3km-to-go barrier, time gaps counted. Only 27 riders made it through, including Froome and Contador.
For Froome, who suffered through an injury- and crash-plagued 2014, getting safely through the first day of his season debut was welcomed with a sigh of relief.
“I want to get back into that feeling of racing again. To be on the wheels, to get into the race. This morning definitely tested everything, with everything so sketchy, and the crosswinds, it’s all good experience in the banks, and good racing in the legs,” he said. “It was between this and [Tour of] Oman, as much as I enjoyed racing in Oman, it was time for a change, after having won it two times. I wanted to challenge myself with something different this year.”
With Contador in the lead, Froome will have a challenge to try to knock him back. Contador is like a vise when it comes to leader’s jerseys, and it will take a well-executed coup, much like Andrew Talansky pulled in last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, to take it away.
Froome didn’t seem too worried about that Wednesday. He was happy to be back in the saddle, and get through the day without any problems.