World time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won the stage in a time of 47 minutes two seconds, but it was Tinkoff-Saxo’s Contador who lit up the general classification battle with a time of 47mins 41secs, fourth on the day, easing him into the red jersey so spectacularly surrendered by Movistar rider Quintana.
The Colombian had just crested the top of the sole climb on the technical 36.7km route from Real Monasterio de Santa Maria de Veruela to Borja when he went into the crash barriers on the side of the road and tumbled over the handlebars.
He was slow to get up before climbing on to his spare bike and resuming the race, having already lost two minutes to his rivals, and by the time he crossed the line he had given up a total of 3mins 28secs to Contador.
The news for Team Sky’s Froome was only marginally better as he lost 53 seconds to Contador without the excuse of a crash. Both men are recovering from injuries which ended their participation in the Tour de France early, but this stage suggested it is Contador who has found his form faster.
This technical time trial course saw the riders crest a significant climb early in the day, with the incline reaching eight per cent near the summit before a long descent and the run to Borja.
Froome had already given up 28 seconds to Contador by the top of that climb, and it got no better for the Team Sky man.
That was a major disappointment given that Froome is seen as a strong time triallist, who would usually look to make up time in the discipline.
Instead it was others who used the day’s stage to put themselves in contention.
While Contador was the big winner, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Rigoberto Uran was the best placed of the GC contenders, taking third place on the stage – 15 seconds behind Martin and four behind Trek Factory’s Fabian Cancellara – to move up to third overall, 59 seconds down on Contador. Quintana’s team-mate Alejandro Valverde sits second in the GC standings after a time of 48mins 3secs kept him in touch.
Froome is now down in fifth overall, 1min 18secs back, with Lampre-Merida’s Winner Anacona six seconds better off in fourth place.
Meanwhile, Sir Bradley Wiggins will defend his Tour of Britain title after being named as the leader of Team Sky’s squad for the race, which begins in Liverpool on Sunday.
Wiggins will be joined by fellow Britons Ian Stannard and Ben Swift, with Bernhard Eisel, David Lopez and Sebastian Henao completing Sky’s six-man line-up for the eight-stage event.
“The Tour of Britain is a special race for me so to be returning as defending champion is a real honour,” Wiggins said. “It’s always been a tough race but the support we receive from the fans is incredible, and it’s our home tour so I’ve always enjoyed racing it.”
It had initially been unclear if Wiggins would take part as he eyed the Vuelta as a warm-up for the world championship time trial, but once Froome confirmed he would race in Spain after returning from injury, Wiggins had to change plans.
However, defending the title in his home race is not a bad alternative. “From the start of the year it’s always been a goal of mine to race to the Tour of Britain,” he said. “The race is growing in stature year on year and it’s our chance to go there with a strong team and race in front of home fans to thank them for their support over the season.”
Wiggins will be the favourite to take the crown again, although he could face strong competition from Tinkoff-Saxo’s Irishman Nicolas Roche – a rider who has been strongly linked with a move to Team Sky.
Wiggins can call on plenty of experience from his support team thanks to the inclusion of veterans Eisel and Lopez, while Stannard is back in action after a bad crash in the Spring Classics.
After the start in Liverpool, the week-long race will head south through Wales towards Devon for the traditional run over Dartmoor in stage five, and then moves east along the south coast before heading into London for the final stage on 14 September.