The 40.2 kilometer time trial was absolutely flat.
That’s to say, flat as Vincenzo Nibali’s hopes of holding his one minute time gap to race leader Chris Froome. Instead, he lost another minute.
Flat as Alberto Contador’s hopes of reaching that last step on the podium in the last race of his storied career. He turned in a fine performance, jumped to to fifth on GC but still has a two minutes gap to erase.
Flat as the hopes of Fabio Aru(Astana) and Esteban Chavez (Orica-Scott), who both looked so good in the first week of the Vuelta but dumped another three and four minutes to Froome.
“I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a tough day, probably the hardest day for me and it is what it is,” said Chavez. “I was prepared for that and it is the result that it is. The Colombian will keep smiling but he won’t match his third place in the 2016 Vuelta.
However, Wilco Kelderman gave anything but a flat performance, clocking a time just 29 seconds off Froome’s winning number of 47 seconds, flat, of course. That moves the Sunweb captain up to third overall, 2:40 off the pace.
Nibali sits between Froome and Kelderman at 1:58, but he’s neither confident nor optimistic about his chances of winning this Vuelta with a come-from-behind victory. “What you feel in a time trial is a good indication of where you’re at in terms of form,” Nibali said afterward, “and it’s going to be very difficult to beat Froome.”
Wednesday, it’s back to the high mountains and Froome, not willing to jinx himself or annoy the Cycling Gods, says anything can still happen. Well, sure, a piano could fall on top of his head, he could slip getting out of the shower, the Sky bus could spontaneously explode.
According to Froome, “Tomorrow is going to be absolutely brutal. Los Machucos, from what I can see, is a wall.” Yes, it does look like a wall, the opposite of flat, but we expect the outcome to be identical.