• Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Movistar during Stage 1 prologue in Malaga (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The battle for the Vuelta a Espana general classification (GC) reaches an important point on Stage 16, the 32 kilometre individual time trial from Santillana del Mar to Torrelavega.
Cycling Central

11 Sep 2018 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 11 Sep 2018 - 11:33 AM

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) leads the battle for the red jersey by 26 seconds and will be banking on a much-improved time trial to hold onto his lead. A year or two ago, Yates would have conceded a minute or more to other GC contenders over this sort of flat course, but the British star has concentrated on improving his technique and stamina, with the effort borne out in his performances.

Yates was 20th in the equivalent time trial in the Giro d'Italia, losing just over a minute and a half to the eventual stage winner, Rohan Dennis (BMC), over the 34.2 kilometre course.

Yates said during the rest day that he was concentrated on his main rivals, which for the moment remains the Movistar pair of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana.

“They are all really close, the differences are only a few seconds," said Yates. "That may continue, and the time trial may well be very important.”

Yates refused to be drawn on speculation of how the GC might look after the test against the clock.

“It depends [on] how my legs are going and how I go on the day, my rivals… A lot of us are also very close in the time trial.”

“I'm always confident in my own abilities. I think I have a great TT, everyone else disagrees. I’m slowly getting better. I will do my best.”

Alejandro Valverde has the best pedigree in the test against the clock of the main contenders, with many years of solid performances in important time trials. 

Spanish media has been all over the potential for conflict between teammate Nairo Quintana and himself, and Valverde spoke to the ongoing battle for supremacy at the top of the standings.

“You’ve all have already seen how close we’re to each other in terms of strength," said Valverde. "At some stages one builds a little gap, then loses it in others… It’s really tight between the main contenders.

"I feel like tomorrow’s time trial could be one that makes bigger gaps than all those that we had in the last couple of mountain stages.

While Valverde dismissed the notion that there might be any internal conflict with Quintana, he re-iterated that the was no defined leader and it would depend on how things shape up after the time trial.

"We’ll have a clearer GC situation from tomorrow on – not a strictly defined scenario, since there will still be three tough mountain stages remaining after Tuesday, but we should find the biggest gaps between the race contenders so far in this race tomorrow.”

Valverde sits in second overall 26 seconds adrift of Yates and seven seconds ahead of teammate Nairo Quintana.

Quintana was open about his overall chances and where he and Valverde sit in relation to the other main contenders at the Vuelta.

“Sometimes, what you wish -in our case, getting to the race lead before the TT- isn’t what ends up happening," said Quintana. "The fact that we’re so well matched against each other has played a big part in how the race has unfolded so far.

"We’re coming here after a very tough Tour de France, while some of our rivals have got the chance to prepare themselves well after racing the Giro; both of them (Yates and López) with huge protagonism. Also from the Giro came Richard Carapaz, who has come to this race fresh and strong, and helped us a lot during the last two weeks."

Quintana also downplayed the potential for conflict with his teammate, preferring to concentrate on Movistar's rivals. 

"The important thing for us is that we remain up there in contention," said Quintana. "The gaps should be more defined after Tuesday’s TT.”

"Alejandro should be the man doing the best TT performance of all main contenders, and he’ll surely take advantage. After that, we’ll see how things stand before the final mountains, and how I’m feeling.”

Rohan Dennis (BMC) will go into the stage as the overwhelming favourite, after claiming victory in the Stage 1 prologue. The Australian has won five out of eight individual time trials this season, and looks to be the firm favourite for this race, with only Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky) and Victor Campanaerts (Lotto Soudal) considered top exponents of the 'race of truth'.