Vuelta a Espana 2017
Team Sky’s Froome blitzed the flat 40.2km race of truth from the Navarra motor-racing circuit to the capital of the Rioja region in northern Spain in a blistering time of 47 minutes on the dot.
Froome now leads his principal rival Nibali by 1’58” after the Italian Bahrain-Merida rider took third place on the day, 57 seconds down on the red jersey.
Team Sunweb youngster Kelderman moved above Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) into third place in the general classification after an impressive second-place that put him 2’40” down on the race summit – and breathing down the experienced Nibali’s neck – with five stages remaining.
Russia’s Zakarin was the fourth quickest man on the day and sits in fourth place on GC a further 27 seconds back, while Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) – riding his final time trial as a professional – rose four places to fifth on GC after the Spanish veteran put in a solid effort level with Zakarin some 59 seconds adrift of Froome.
A second stage victory in the 72nd edition of La Vuelta saw 32-year-old Froome extend his lead in the green jersey classification, which he now leads by 27 points over Italy’s Matteo Trentin, the triple stage winner from Quick-Step Floors.
The four-time Tour de France champion also tops the combined classification and is within touching distance of the king of the mountains summit while in pursuit of a Tour-Vuelta double that has never been achieved in cycling’s modern era.
Despite his healthy lead with just five stages remaining, Froome stressed that the race was “far from over”.
“It’s a big relief and obviously I’m super happy to be in this position. It’s an amazing feeling to extend my lead and to be in this position. But the race is not over and I’m going have to fight every day.”
Swedish national champion Tobias Ludvigsson (FDJ) led in the club house for a long period after setting a stellar target time of 48’07” to move above previous leaders, the German tyro Lennard Kamna (Team Sunweb) and experienced Italian Daniel Oss (BMC).
With a favourable tailwind for long swathes of the largely pan-flat course and the sun shining, Stage 16 threw few obstacles at the riders – save for a few tight turns shortly after the start in the Circuito de Navarro.
Frenchman Romain Bardet made a hash of things on one such corner, the Ag2R-La Mondiale rider – who was almost caught by Froome during the Tour’s decisive time trial in Marseille – losing his wheel and hitting the deck hard.
There was also a large blunder for one of the outside favourites, Yves Lampaert of Quick-Step Floors, after the Belgian turned up late and was forced to ride straight through the start gate and down the ramp without the usual formalities.
With Ludvigsson having set the target time at the 13km and 28km intermediate checks as well as the finish, it was not until Contador – the ninth-last rider to start – came along that the dynamic started to change.
Cheered on by a partisan crowd on his final professional time trial, Contador shaved 23 seconds off Ludvigsson’s time at the first check before himself being beaten by Zakarin and Kelderman.
Froome, however, did not have the quickest of starts – the Briton passing through some 23 seconds down on pace-setter Kelderman, and just two seconds to the better of Nibali.
That was all to change on the slightly hillier middle section, which saw Froome perform a 30-second swing by coming through seven seconds to the better of the Dutchman.
Meanwhile, the likes of Fabio Aru, Miguel Angel Lopez, Esteban Chaves and Michael Woods – all faltering top 10 contenders – saw their hopes dented while coming home well down on Ludvigsson. One notable exception was Froome’s team-mate Wout Poels, who crossed the line just four seconds down on the Swede – an effort that saw the Dutchman rise to eight on GC.
An inspired Contador became the first rider to post a sub-48-minute time to move momentarily into the hot seat before Kelderman took over the reins and in some style: beating the triple Vuelta winner by 30 seconds.
Zakarin could only match Contador’s time while Nibali rallied after a slow start to cross the line 28 seconds down on Kelderman. But it was all to prove largely immaterial in the battle for red when Froome kept his momentum going to topple Kelderman at the top by 29 seconds – completing the course in an average time of 51.319kmh.
Astana duo Lopez and Aru conceded 2’34” and 3’03” respectively but retained their sixth and seventh places on GC – albeit now well more than five minutes down on the runaway leader.
The big loser of the day was the Colombian Chaves (Orica-Scott) who shipped just over four minutes to Froome and dropped to ninth on GC, 6’40” down. Canada’s Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) did not fare much better, dropping from eighth to tenth, 7’06 in arrears.
La Vuelta continues on Wednesday with the undulating 180.7km Stage 17 which includes three categorised climbs – including the ‘especial’-rated summit finish at Los Muchucos which Froome predicts will be both “brutal” and a “war”.