A day after his lead had shrunk to a single second, Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez once again increased his overall advantage with a lone stage win on the Vuelta a Espana’s fifth summit finish on Thursday.
Rodriguez shed Alberto Contador 150m from the summit of the short, but agonizingly steep climb of Mirador de Ezaro to claim an eight-second victory over his compatriot.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde finished third, 13 seconds behind Rodriguez.
After claiming a 12 second time bonus for his victory, Rodriguez now leads by 13 seconds over Contador, who picked up an eight bonus seconds, while Britain’s Chris Froome — third overall, but fifth on the stage — dropped to 51 seconds off the pace.
“I’d had this stage marked down with a cross in my route book and I could do what I planned,” Rodriguez, already victorious on the Fuerte del Rapitan uphill finish in the first week, told reporters. “This was way harder a climb than I expected, though, so I had to calculate my strength really carefully. I’ve no idea how far I can go as leader after this win today, but if I can take it all the way to Madrid, that would be perfect.”
“However, Contador was much harder to beat than I’d expected today and there are four of us still in the mix,” he said, referring to himself, Contador, Valverde and Froome. “You can’t rule anybody out.”
After an early move on the Mirador de Ezaro’s relentlessly steep slopes of up to 29 percent by Spain’s Igor Anton fizzled out, Contador managed to go clear, but Rodriguez constantly shadowed the double Tour de France winner as they went under the banner indicating a kilometer to the summit and then bolted forward for the win on the 190.5km stage.
“It was such a short climb you can’t draw too many conclusions,” Contador told reporters. “Either way, my objectives are still further ahead in this race.”
After a short, undulating trek from Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol on stage 13, the riders face three days of high mountain stages in the northern region of Asturias.
“Up to now it’s been just one big climb and that’s been it, but from Saturday it will be a whole different ball game,” Rodriguez said. “We’re all four equally balanced for now, but by the time we reach the rest day next week at least one of us will have disappeared from the running.”
La Vuelta finishes on Sept. 9 in Madrid.