There was no doubt that Chris Froome was going to win the time trial at the Vuelta. The question was by how much. Froome stormed the 37 kilometre course to win in a time of 46:33, 44 seconds clear of Jonathan Castrovejo (Movistar) in second place, with Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin) in third, 1:24 off Froome. Meanwhile a great time trial from George Bennett, saw him climb up to 11th overall.
The important question for Froome was how much time he could take out of race leader Nairo Quintana. The answer, 2:16, was not quite enough to put him in a legitimate position to challenge for the overall title, as it left him still 1:21 adrift of Quintana in the overall standings with just one mountain stage remaining on which to launch an all-out assault on the Colombian. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) produced a strong performance in the time trial as well to overtake Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange) in the overall standings and move up to third.
With the time trial coming late in the Vuelta, the focus would be on the battle for the overall podium, but stage honours were still up for grabs. Victor Campenaerts (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the first to stake his claim for a high finish on the stage as he stopped the clock at 48:20 to move into the lead. However, his reign in the hot seat was rather short lived as Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) went 21 seconds faster to claim the lead. That time would stand until Ludvigsson produced a ride than any coach would be proud of, accelerating as he made his way along the course to spring a surprise at the finish line, stopping the clock two seconds faster than Lampaert. Castrovejo would cut short Ludvigsson’s reign, smashing the Swede’s time by 40 seconds.
However, the focus now shifted from the stage win to the overall standings as the major contenders started making their way onto the course. There were a couple of significant battles to be fought out on the course, with Simon Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange) in fifth place overall fighting to hold off the challenge of Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) in sixth, Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange) in third fighting to hold off Contador in fourth, and of course Quintana in the lead fighting to maintain a significant gap over Froome, who started the day over three and a half minutes in arrears. In the first of the head to head contests, Talansky produced a very good ride, good enough for seventh on the stage, to move ahead of Yates in the overall classification, pushing the Orica-Bike Exchange rider down to sixth place.
Chaves started the day with a very narrow lead over Contador, and the Spaniard wasted no time moving up into virtual third on the overall classification, taking back enough time by the first time check on the course. Contador’s time would be good enough for eighth on the stage and a spot on the provisional overall podium, leaving him more than a minute clear of Chaves.
As Froome set off, it was expected that he would set the best time at the checks and take out the stage, but it was the gap between him and race leader Quintana that everyone was keeping an eye on. With a deficit of three and a half minutes to make up, it was highly unlikely that Froome would be able to claim the red leader’s jersey from Quintana on the stage, but he could potentially put himself back into contention if he could close the gap significantly.
At the first check, things were not looking too good for Quintana as he went through the check 46 seconds slower than Froome. The Sky rider continued pushing out his advantage, going through the second check 1:33 up on Quintana, and in the driving seat for stage honours as well. By the time they reached the finish line, Froome bettered the time of Castrovejo by 44 seconds to take out the stage, while Quintana crossed the line 2:16 down on Froome to see his lead in the overall classification slashed to just 1:21. Had the stage been longer, Quintana might have seen the race lead slip from his grasp, but as things stand, Froome has only one stage left to launch a challenge, and with Quintana and his team in really good form in the mountains, closing a gap of 1:21 would be a big ask.
George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) was best of the Kiwis, taking 25th place on the stage, 3:18 down on Froome. When we spoke to him on the rest day, Bennett was clear that he was going to lose time and likely drop places in the general classification. Something special needed to come through on the day; but fortunately something special did indeed come through. Bennett’s performance was good enough to move Bennett up to eleventh place overall, 50 seconds off a top ten spot in a blistering ride that he should be more than a little proud of!