Chris Froome steps up Vuelta a Espana hunt in Eibar

Alejandro Valverde wins the third stage of the Vuelta

Britain's Chris Froome climbed to fourth in the Vuelta a Espana after a third-place finish behind new leader Alejandro Valverde on stage three.

Froome, runner-up in the Tour de France and a bronze-medal winner in the London 2012 time trial, beat Spaniard Alberto Contador into fourth in a photo finish.

Valverde has a 20-second lead over Team Sky rider Froome having taken over from fellow Spaniard Jonathan Castroviejo at the top of the overall standings.

The race ends in Madrid on 9 September.

The 155.3km mountainous stage between Oyon and Eibar was the first to seriously test the climbing credentials of the general classification contenders.

After a breakaway group that included the Belgian Philippe Gilbert had been reeled back from a four-minute lead, a thrilling climax unfolded over the final 10 kilometres.

Contador, who is returning to action after being stripped of a third Tour de France title and receiving a two-year backdated ban for doping, repeatedly attacked in the closing stages.

However his compatriot Valverde, second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez and Froome repelled him on each occasion to keep the red jersey out of his clutches and fill the first three finishing spots.

Stage Three results:

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar) 3:49:37"

2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa/Katusha)

3. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky)

4. Alberto Contador (Spa/Saxo Bank)

5. Daniel Moreno (Spa/Katusha) +6"

General classification standings:

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/ Movistar) 8:46:56"

2. Benat Intxausti (Spa/ Movistar) +18"

3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa/ Katusha) +19"

4. Chris Froome (GB/ Team Sky) +20"

5. Alberto Contador (Spa/ Saxo Bank) +24"

6. Bauke Mollema (Ned/ Rabobank) +28"

7. Robert Gesink (Ned/Rabobank)

8. Rigoberto Uran (Col/ Team Sky) +30"

9. Daniel Moreno (Spa/ Katusha) +33"

10. Igor Anton (Spa/Euskaltel) +46"

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