Froome found himself distanced on the early slopes of the hors categorie Lagos de Covadonga but he fought back in fine fashion and, once he found his rhythm, he weaved his way back through the field on the 12 kilometre final climb.
At one point he was a minute back on the elite group of contenders and he looked like he may be biding farewell to any potential challenge for the overall, yet he remained composed and worked his way back to the bunch inside the final four kilometres.
After relying on team-mates Pete Kennaugh and Leopold König for initial support to start to claw back time, from then on the time gap began ticking down as Froome began cutting back on the gap. Froome steadily moved past dropped riders, gradually shortening the margin on Contador (Tinkoff) and Quintana (Movistar) to a bare 20 seconds.
As Froome continued his fightback, the Colombian dropped Contador with 3.6 kilometres to go, and around a kilometre later, Froome passed the Spaniard too, with only Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Quintana left to beat ahead of him on the climb.
By the finish the gap opened slightly between Quintana and Froome, to 25 seconds between the stage winner and the Briton as Froome reached Gesink, picking up Alejandro Valverde on the way through as well.
The Netherlands rider fought back to beat him in the sprint for second but Froome had not only limited the damage inflicted by Quintana, but also managed to open a small gap on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a larger one on Contador and the rest of the field.
“I just rode the climb at the best pace I felt was the efficient way to get up there and according to how I thought the legs were feeling,” said Froome.
“Nairo is in great form and we’ve seen that over the last few days. I’ve got to be happy with where I’m at, just keep doing my thing and hope that over the next few days I find either an opportunity to go for it or defend my position that we’re in and wait for the time trial.”
"I was just riding at the pace that I felt was most appropriate for a climb, for a 35 minute effort and I could see guys I was going past being blown from the front and they maybe started off a bit fast, so I used my team-mates the best I could and they did a great job today.
“It was good for the morale (to pass riders), but I knew that Quintana was a good 45 seconds up the road and that was pretty tough too, not having to chase after that and respond straightaway.
"But for this point in the season, after the Tour or the Olympics , I'm just hanging on to what I have left and I'm trying to get through the best I can.”
Froome didn't agree with suggestions that Quintana had to take much more time on him before the Stage 19 time trial.
“It (58 seconds) is a big gap. If I can get more time back that would obviously be ideal, but if not, I will have to make do with what I have got.”
The Tour de France also went against suggestions that he was doing what he has been criticised for in the past and riding to the numbers.
“Not necessarily. I was riding more by feeling today, just riding with what I felt I could do on the climb in the most efficient way to get up there and not to lose every more time.
“I mean, who knows, maybe if I'd gone and really pushed myself at the beginning, I would've lost even more time. I felt like that was the quickest way for me to get up there today and I think at this point I really have to calculate my efforts.”
After losing time on the Alto de La Camperona to both Quintana and Contador where he did try to follow the early moves, the stage to Lagos de Covadonga was a marked change in tactics.
“Like I saw a couple of days ago when I really got stuck into the climb (Alto de La Camperona) earlier on, I paid for it afterwards. I think today was definitely a more measured effort. Also in the past, every time I have ridden this climb, I have blown, so I feel like today was a better effort than I have done in the past.”
Rival Alejandro Valverde is sitting just a second ahead of Froome in the general classification and was very wary of the threat that Froome poses to his team leader's red jersey.
“I knew that Froome would come really fast from behind, and as Nairo attacked, I kept my own pace and stayed with Rubén (Fernandez), who set a fantastic pace. I was conserving some energy so as to follow Froome when he came past and even after his furious pace at the end, I only lost three seconds to him.
“Froome isn’t surprising; he always drops back, he was even trailing by 40 seconds halfway through the ascent, yet he overcomes riders at an impressive pace.
"It’s not the first time, we all know about his excellent abilities. We will see how much time we can take to Froome. We all know he is better than us in the TT, so as much time as we can gain to him, the better.
”GC-wise, this minute Nairo has on Froome isn’t much, but there’s a lot of mountains ahead. God knows we’ll give our all to increase that gap.”