PONTEVEDRA, Spain (AFP) –
Sweden’s Frederik Kessiakoff won the 11th stage of the Tour of Spain on Wednesday, a 39km individual time-trial from Cambados to Pontevedra in Galicia.
Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, of the Katusha team, has just a fingernail’s grip on the overall leader’s red jersey, however.
He now lies one second ahead of compatriot and 2008 Vuelta champion Alberto Contador, back from a two-year drugs ban, and 16 seconds in front of Great Britain’s Chris Froome, the runner-up at this year’s Tour de France.
The 32-year-old Kessiakoff of Team Astana stamped his authority on the time-trial with an impressive time of 52min 32sec, beating Saxo Bank’s Contador by 17 seconds and Froome of Team Sky by 39 seconds.
It is the Swede’s first stage win in a major tour, though he had fired a warning shot in the 2012 Tour of Switzerland by winning an individual time-trial there.
Among the favourites, Contador gained the most ground in the time-trial, seemingly at ease as he took advantage of a third-category climb of about 10km up Monte Castrove.
The Spanish climber clawed back 22 seconds on Froome, but could not reach Rodriguez.
“In the end, the important thing is the result,” Contador said.
“I am very happy. It has been a good day. Now it is time to rest because the Vuelta is starting for us. Up to now they have been one-day races, but from now on they are high-mountain stages.”
Contador is clearly comfortable back in the saddle after his hotly contested drugs ban.
The 29-year-old has always insisted that the trace of banned substance clenbuterol detected in his urine at the 2010 Tour de France came from a contaminated steak he ate on the eve of the test.
Rodriguez, too, was content with his performance in the stage.
“I am very happy with my time,” Rodriguez said.
“It is only logical I should lose time at the start when I am not really in my element: the mountains. Then, on the climb I felt good.”
On Thursday the riders face a spectacular 190km coastal route through Galicia from Vilagarcia de Arousa to Mirador de Ezaro, a third-category mountain pass with inclinations of over 13 percent.