• Alberto Contador had a difficult start to the Vuelta a España but remains a chance for a podium place. (AAP)Source: AAP
Three-time winner Alberto Contador expects Nairo Quintana to win his first Vuelta a España in Madrid on Sunday.
Cycling Central

7 Sep 2016 - 9:26 AM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2016 - 9:30 AM

Movistar rider Quintana holds an advantage of three minutes and 37 seconds over nearest rival, Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky), with five stages remaining, including Friday's individual time trial.

Contador is fourth in the general standings, four minutes and two seconds behind Quintana. Just five seconds separate Contador from third-placed Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange).

"Unless Quintana has a bad day, he is the winner of La Vuelta," Contador said.

To beat Contador and win La Vuelta would be a significant achievement for Quintana, the 2014 Giro d'Italia champion.

"I've had to learn a lot very quickly from figures like Contador," Quintana said. "I followed his movements during an epic stage of his at Fuente De (four years ago) and I said to myself that if I wanted to be someone important in cycling, I would have to learn what a rider like Contador did."

But as Quintana, Froome and Chaves know, Contador will continue to fight for a place in Madrid despite the difficult task ahead.

No one knows how he will play his remaining cards, and he himself will wait for events on the road to provide the opportunities.

Well, I'm not sure myself. I can see there are possibilities and at certain times I could try something," Contador said. On the other hand, it is true there are many interests, probably common, that can come together and make your bet very complicated to achieve.

"I'll take it day-by-day, and keep trying. The goal I have isn't the podium. Obviously, winning is very difficult because Nairo Quintana has a very strong team, he's very strong himself and has an enormous difference over me.

"In addition, there are two more riders ahead of me. I'll keep giving all I have in the race and see how we end up in Madrid. It's true that every day there is a different story and a thousand things can happen, so, in that sense, sometimes you can come out disadvantaged while at others you can be advantaged."

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His first opportunity to make some gains will come on the difficult 177.5km Stage 17 from Castellón to Llucena.

The stage features a mountain top finish on the Mas de la Costa, in Llucena, with the finale just 4km long, but with an average elevation of 13 per cent and ramps of up to 22 per cent.

"I know the climb and recently rode it. I think the differences will be bigger than Peña Cabarga," Contador said. "It is extremely hard from the outset.

"The start will be very tough and there is close to 3700 meters of elevation gain, combined with temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade.

"In my opinion, tomorrow will be an extremely hard day, one of the hardest of the Vuelta and the differences will be much bigger."