Britain’s Chris Froome resolved to fight for every second after claiming the leader’s red jersey with a gutsy ride on the first mountain stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Monday.
Froome crossed the line third in Andorra la Vella as Vincenzo Nibali won stage three, but bonus seconds allowed him to overtake his Italian rival and top the general classification.
The Team Sky rider, bidding to become only the third man to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season, leads by two seconds from Ireland’s Nicholas Roche, BMC Racing team-mate Tejay van Garderen and David de la Cruz of Quick-Step Floors.
Nibali is just five seconds further behind, but Froome, who narrowly missed out on the title in 2011 and was runner-up for a second time last year, insists any early gains could ultimately prove decisive.
“I’ve lost the Vuelta before by 13 seconds so I’m going to fight for every second I can at this point,” said Froome, who led for most of the race on his way to a fourth Tour win this summer.
“It feels amazing to be in this position. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. I’ve worked hard to be here after the Tour and I’m really happy,” he added.
“We can expect a big fight for the jersey. I don’t necessarily expect to keep it all the way, especially with it being so close. We’re just going to have to see one day at a time. Obviously we’re going to do everything we can to protect it now.”
Froome earned a crucial three-second bonus by winning a sprint before the final climb, on which he attacked with 7.7km to go.
Only Esteban Chaves could keep pace, although Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru joined the leaders on the descent. Nibali, Roche, Van Garderen and De la Cruz arrived in the last kilometre for a sprint finish.