Chris Froome has won his second stage of the Vuelta a Espana and with it yawned open a more substantial lead in the general classification. His maiden overall victory in the final grand tour of the season looks a little more assured now as Froome took the win ahead of Wilco Kelderman and Vincenzo Nibali.
Make no mistake, the Vuelta a Espana is still lose-able as far as Chris Froome is concerned, a time gap of 1.58mins is far from insurmountable; and in a race where anything can happen Vincenzo Nibali in second place is still in the hunt and must be on high alert for any chink in the armour of the British rider. But the signs are pretty plain for all to see that Froome is the in-form rider who will be extremely tough to beat from here. His 29 second victory over Wilco Kelderman and 57 second victory over Vincenzo Nibali emphasised this.
Going into the stage it was clear that of the GC candidates Froome was comfortably best suited to the largely flat course between Circuito de Navarra and Logroño that was still a healthy 40.2km in length. And it showed over the course of the stage. Clad in the red leader’s skin suit Froome powered around the course to stop the clock in 47mins exactly and put a firm stamp on the race overall.
There were significant performances behind him though in a top ten that saw seven riders change places. Although none lost their place in the top ten, there will be a number of riders significantly happier with how things progressed today than others. Wilco Kelderman of Team Sunweb can afford to smile at the moment. The Dutchman has quietly and without fuss gone about gradually ascending the general classification, but there was nothing quiet about Kelderman’s time trial which put major time into all others aside from Froome. The fact that he was the only one who managed to stay within 30 seconds of the red jersey does him credit too.
We had an inkling going into the stage that Vincenzo Nibali would be one of the stronger riders against the clock and such proved to be the case. Of the GC contenders he appeared to produce a ride that was par for the course, not challenging Chris Froome but putting the hurt on those behind him. But perhaps most surprising was the performance of Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin.
The Russian came away with nothing short of a brilliant performance against the clock to lose just 2 seconds to Nibali. Yes, Zakarin lost his third place overall, but given his performances in the mountains of late I wouldn’t be surprised if he is confident about getting that time back. Alberto Contador, it’s probably safe to say, gained the most as he leapt from 9th to 5th overall. The Spaniard has always been a good time trial rider and I think he can certainly be happy with his final race against the clock that now sees him 2.18mins off of a podium place; Kelderman, Zakarin, watch out!
Of the non-GC candidates, the strong early times were set by Tobias Ludvigsson of FDJ and Lennard Kamna of Team Sunweb on a day where Chris Froome was largely unchallenged by time trial specialists. The man who was most expected to challenge him for the stage, Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing, withdrew from the race on the second rest day.
Of the Kiwis Aaron Gate of Aqua Blue Sport was the strongest with a time of 50.57mins. Gate was 39 seconds faster than Tom Scully of Cannondale-Drapac. Sam Bewley of Orica-SCOTT rode a conservative race which will see him hopefully conserving enough energy to support Esteban Chaves who now sits 9th overall.