This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
There were two big winners in the Vuelta a España's 39.4km time trial today between Cambados and Pontevedra. The most obvious was Astana's Fredrik Kessiakoff, who went off early and posted a fast time, then spent an agonising hour or so sitting on the podium watching the day's favourites attempt to better it. None managed to, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) going closest as he finished 17 seconds behind the Swede, with Sky's Chris Froome another 22 seconds back in third.
The day's other winner was Joaquim Rodríguez, who predicted he would lose between two and three minutes in the test, but produced what was arguably the time trial of his career as he finished seventh on the day, 1:16 down on Kessiakoff. What mattered more, though, was his deficit on Contador and Froome. He kept his Spanish rival out of the lead by a single second, while Froome also closed in and is now just 16 seconds back. However, both would have been expecting to gain considerable time of Katusha's diminutive leader, who has a string of terrible Vuelta time trial performances behind him.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) also showed he's not out of the hunt for the title yet. Fourth place on the day meant that he's now 59 seconds down on Rodríguez. These four now have a bit of cushion between them and the chasing pack, which is led by Robert Gesink, another climber who produced a strong ride. The Rabobank Dutchman is now 2:27 down as the race heads towards the first of four tough uphill finishes on Thursday.
Stage-winner Kessiakoff admitted that he has had this time trial in his sights for a few days having failed to stay with the pace of the main contenders in the mountains. "It was a very long time to wait and my initial feeling now is one of relief," said the Swede after his victory had been confirmed.
"I knew that I had a good time when I finished, especially when I compared it to Richie Porte, who is a very good time trial rider. I knew then that I would be close to the favourites. I knew that it would be difficult to beat Froome and Contador, but the team know that I've been very focused on this stage. I've been thinking about it with my directeur sportif for a few days. I'm very happy to come away with the win."
Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) set the first competitive mark, recording a time of 53:53 for the course, which started and finished on the flat and included the not inconsiderable bulk of the Alto Monte Castrove, which rises for 10km at 4.4 per cent. Porte slipped a couple of seconds inside his Australian compatriot's time, but as he finished Kessiakoff was already setting a much faster pace. Seven seconds up on the Sky man at the first check, the Swede extended that advantage to 41 seconds at the second and 1:15 at the finish.
Soon after he had completed his ride, the favourites began to head down the start ramp in Cambados. Froome was widely tipped as the favourite for the stage win, but it was Contador who opened up the quickest. The Saxo leader was two seconds up on Kessiakoff at the first check before the start of the climb, with Froome just four seconds down on the Spaniard. Rodríguez, though, looked set for another difficult time trial as he came through 39 seconds slower than Contador. However, the climb of the Castrove changed the complexion of the time trial.
Contador continued to look smooth and edged slowly away from Froome, who often appears to be labouring when he's actually going well. But the Briton clearly wasn't in the kind of form he showed at the Tour de France and the Olympics.
Rodríguez continued to fall back as well on the early slopes of the climb, but then began to limit his losses. Needing to finish within a minute of Contador to retain the red jersey, he was 54 seconds down on his rival at the top of the climb, but only lost another five thereafter as Contador faded slightly over the closing kilometres.
With a steep uphill finish of the kind that Rodríguez loves to come on Thursday, the Katusha leader will feel that he's well set for the key days ahead. If Contador and Froome are to beat him, they will have to do so on Rodríguez's preferred terrain.