PONTEVEDRA, Spain (AP) -- Joaquin Rodriguez held a slim overall lead on Alberto Contador after finishing seventh in the time trial Wednesday in the Spanish Vuelta.
Fredrik Kessiakoff won the 24.5-mile, 11th stage individual sprint by 17 seconds over Contador. Rodriguez finished 1:16 behind Kessiakoff to retain a one-second overall lead on Contador, the 2008 champion.
"To have Alberto second is like having the devil in your ear," Rodriguez said. "My legs felt like they were going to explode."
Christopher Froome finished 39 seconds behind the Astana cyclist's winning time of 52 minutes, 36 seconds for third. The Tour de France runner-up is 15 seconds behind Rodriguez in third overall.
Contador's fresher state may help his push for a second Vuelta title after he arrived at the 67th edition of the classic with little racing because of a doping ban since February.
The Spanish cyclist gained time over his rivals in the climb to Monte Castrove after 14 miles. He was fastest among his top rivals in negotiating the steep and curvy descent, with Froome showing nerves navigating the thin stretch of road.
SaxoBank rider Contador is competing in his first major event since serving a ban that stripped him of his third Tour de France title in 2010.
"It's good to have been stronger than Chris Froome in a discipline that favors him," Contador said, "so while I managed a good time against the other favorites, I wanted to win the stage. The Vuelta really starts now."
Rodriguez clung to the red shirt with a gutsy ride that suggests he had shaken off his runner-up disappointment at the Giro d'Italia, where the Katusha rider was undone by a poor time trial on the final day. He had started as leader ahead of eventual winner Ryder Hesjedal.
"I just have to take it day-by-day now," Rodriguez said. "I can't have a bad day. It can get complicated here on out."
Alejandro Valverde was fourth, 1:08 back, and 58 seconds behind Rodriguez. Dutch cyclist Robert Gesink was the next closest challenger to Rodriguez at 2:28 off his overall time of 40:26:15.
The 12th stage Thursday keeps the Vuelta on the Galician coast with a 118-mile trek from Vilagarcia to Dumbria, with the title challengers looking to maintain their place before the mountainous 14th leg on Saturday.
The 21-stage, three-week race ends in Madrid on Sept. 9.