Chris Froome claims he doesn’t expect to keep hold of the red jersey as the leader of the Vuelta a Espana – despite a great display to earn it on a hilly stage three.

The Tour de France champion was third over the line behind winner Vincenzo Nibali and David De La Cruz, but moved into first place in the general classification after claiming bonus seconds on an intermediate sprint.

Froome now leads De La Cruz, Nicolas Roche and Tejay van Garderen by two seconds, with Nibali a further eight seconds back, but believes it will be hard to stay in red for the whole duration of the race.

“Keeping the jersey until the end is going to be really hard, especially with all the time bonuses out there. There’s just two seconds until the next group of riders so it’s still really close. We can expect a big fight for the jersey,” the British rider said. 

“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.”

The big loser on stage three was Alberto Contador – riding the final race of his career. He lost more than two and a half minutes on the climbs of Andorra and his hopes of a dream finale in front of his Spanish fans are now ruined.

For Froome though, the opportunity to win his first Vuelta is now firmly within his grasp.

“It has been a long time since last wearing the red jersey. It feels amazing to put it back on and 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 de France and I’m really happy to be in this position.”