Froome falls to fourth
Chris Froome struggles on a brutal climax to the 15th stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
Last Updated: 02/09/12 6:49pm
Chris Froome dropped out of the top three at the Vuelta a Espana after being unable to keep pace with his main rivals on a brutal climax to the 15th stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
The Team Sky rider was well positioned as the peloton began the hors-categorie climb up to the Lagos de Covadonga but couldn't react as Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde surged up the road in the final five kilometres.
The Tour de France runner-up continued to dig deep as he battled towards the finish, and managed to limit his losses to 35 seconds as he crossed the line in 23rd position.
That result saw Britain's Froome drop one place to fourth in the overall standings, where he now sits 2min 16sec behind red jersey holder Rodriguez (Katusha).
Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) remains in second, 22 seconds off the pace, with Valverde (Movistar) a further 1min 19sec adrift in third.
The stage itself had a surprise winner with Caja Rural rider Antonio Piedra attacking solo from a 10-man escape group on the foot of the final climb and holding on to seal the biggest victory of his career by a 2min 02sec margin.
Fellow breakaway incumbents Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel) and Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) also stayed clear to seal second and third places respectively.
Immediately after the stage, Froome gave an honest assessment of his performance, and said: "It was a really tough climb today and I was definitely suffering out there.
"I'm struggling against the Spanish riders in the mountains at the moment but I'm still trying to do as much as I can to stay up there.
"I'm not sure where I'm going to end up but I'm going to keep giving the maximum effort possible, and if I can do that, I'll be happy."
The stage had been a relatively relaxed affair heading into the final climb of the day, and once the Piedra group had gone clear in the opening 5km, the peloton seemed happy to let them have their day in the sun.
With no-one a threat to the GC, the break were over 15 minutes clear as they hit the first-category Alto de Mirador del Fito, and that lead was still over 12 minutes as they began the long drag to the finish.
Team Sky and Kautusha both set the pace in the bunch, but as the road ramped skywards for the final time, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Movistar then immediately moved to the front and their repeated attacks shelled many riders out the back.
Froome was able to weather the storm early on but couldn't respond when Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez made their moves in the closing stages.
As the trio raced clear, Contador produced several characteristic digs, but his two rivals were able to soak up anything he could throw at them, and the trio crossed the line together, 9min 25sec back on the triumphant Piedra.