Froome head bobs to second in Vuelta.
Watching Froome climb up the last kilometers of Monte Castrove was a painful experience for everyone involved. Physically, visually.
With about 2.4k to go, he moves to the front of the chase group containing race leader Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez.
Just up ahead Fabio Aru (Astana) is trying to win his second stage in the Vuelta a Espana. Quickly, Froome closes the gap on the Italian and opens the gap on the three Spaniards. Adios ex-amigos.
Pain enough for everybody.
Aru gritting his teeth, digging deep to stay out in front and confirm himself as Vincenzo Nibali Jr, Italy’s next great stage racer. He sees Froome drawing near and drives harder out of the saddle, trying to shove a few extra watts into the pedals.
J-Rod puts in a nasty acceleration — it’s a brutal punch to his two countrymen Valverde and Contador. He doesn’t smack them in the face with his fist like he did to Sky’s Philip Deignan, but he’s really not playing nice. They fight their way back onto his wheel.
In the hurt locker, the pain cave, stage 18, two and a half weeks into the last grand tour of the season, the Helta Skelta Vuelta.
The most painful thing?
Watching Froome’s head go up and down, looking up the road, down at power meter, looking up the road, down at power meter. Again and again and again as if Froome’s neck muscles are in such pain that it’s impossible to hold his head up for more than 10 seconds.
Aru is rocking and rolling on the bike, side to side, not dancing on the pedals, pile driving them. Froome head bobbing up and down like some bobble-head doll on a bike.
No wonder Sky replaced their power meter company and decided to use the new Stages set-up. Froome stares down at the display unit for so long, he simply needed something new to start at.
At just over two kilometers to go, Froome catches Aru, moving up next to the Italian on the left edge of the road, space tight enough that he touches Aru’s saddle just to let him know he’s there and not to knock him over by accident.
Valverde leading the non-chase with Contador wondering why the other two Spaniards are content to watch Froome ride away. It’s not his job to save Valverde’s third place (gone by the finish) or help Rodriguez shoot for third (your podium hopes are minimal now.)
Grupo Del lider.
Froome and Aru, clearly moving at faster speeds than the chasers. Contador finally decides he better up the pace. Then J-Rod hits it again but not for long. Short and painful and ineffectual.
In the final K, Valverde wakes up and does his usual race to the line routine. Aru smokes Froome for the win after sitting on his wheel for several kilometers. All told, the Brit cuts 20 seconds off Contador’s lead but time and mountains are running very short.
A painful day for all involved but it’s another day checked off and Alberto Contador is feeling better then ever about his chances to win the Vuelta a Espana.