Movistar's Alejandro Valverde outkicked Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez for an opportunistic stage win at the Vuelta a España and a turn in the leader's Red Jersey, but the story of the day was the hint of what's to come. Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank, coming off a "two year" suspension, is back, and the Vuelta peloton took notice.
Several favorites, including Chris Froome with his Sky armada, pegged today for an early day of aggression, with about 8km of climbing, occasionally in the 10% range, to finish the stage to Eibar in the Basque Region. But the select field blew apart when Contador launched a succession of attacks, each a bit harder than the last, and each putting his top rivals into great difficulty. At the end, Froome made the final quartet and got third on the stage just behind the sprint between Valverde and Rodriguez, and some of the other riders to watch -- Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, Dani Moreno, Andrew Talansky -- were just 6 seconds back.
This was never going to be a place to make too much noise. Still, with the generation's best grand tour rider on the rampage already, there is plenty to think about regarding the coming 18 stages. Can Contador keep on the attack? Does he have the deeper form to extend and finish off one of these accelerations after a year out of the racing scene? Should guys be looking to get time now, before it's too late? Tough to say.
- Alejandro Valverde, Movistar
- Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha, s.t.
- Chris Froome, Sky, s.t.
- Alberto Contador, Saxo-Tinkoff, s.t.
- Dani Moreno, Saxo-Tinkoff, s.t.
- Beñat Intxausti, Movistar, at 0.18
- Rodriguez, at 0.19
- Froome, at 0.20
- Contador, at 0.24