Vuelta and Tour de France runner-up looks to go one better - but Contador likely to pose biggest threat

Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome, who also finished second behind Juan Jose Cobo in last year’s Vuelta, will lead Team Sky’s challenge in the 67th edition of the Spanish Grand Tour when it gets underway in Pamplona a week on Saturday and will have the support of a number of strong climbers following the announcement of the team's line-up today.

Last year, Froome led the Vuelta for one day after putting in a storming time trial in Salamanca, but team orders meant he surrendered the lead 24 hours later to Bradley Wiggins. Some maintain that Froome, the stronger climber of the pair, could have won the race if the team had thrown its weight behind him.

Last month’s Tour de France, where the 27-year-old finished second to Wiggins following a race where the Team Sky pair dominated the time trials and gave their rivals little chance to respond in the mountains, also led to calls for Froome to be given free rein to ride his own race.

Froome went on to win bronze for Great Britain in last week’s Olympic time trial, which was won by Wiggins, and now goes into a Grand Tour for the first time as undisputed leader of the team.

In one of the most eagerly awaited editions ever of the race among Spanish fans, his principal rival is expected to be Alberto Contador, the Saxo Bank-Tikoff Bank’s Alberto Contador starting his home Grand Tour just a fortnight after his doping ban expired.

The Spaniard is currently racing in the Eneco Tour, his first race back, and is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the race for the second time, with Froome seen as his closest rival by some margin.

Team Sky’s nine-man line-up, captained by Juan Antonio Flecha, sees Froome supported by a number of strong climbers including the Australian Richie Porte, who is the only other member of the squad who rode in last month’s Tour de France.

The team also includes two men who finished in the top ten of May’s Giro d’Italia and who occupied the top two spots in the young rider’s classification – Rigoberto Uran, winner of a silver medal in the Olympic road race, and fellow Colombian Sergio Henao.

Great Britain’s Ben Swift and Ian Stannard, the American Danny Pate, and Pamplona native Xabier Zandio, complete the team.

“We’ve got every base covered with this line up,” said Team Sky Sports Director Nicolas Portal. “We have Olympic medallists, amazing climbers, some really strong guys on the flat, and a very fast sprinter.

“Every rider knows their role and they will need to be alert from the very first stage as the level of competition is so high.

“With Froomey, we saw how he improved as the Tour de France went on and he will be very strong here again. This race is a major goal for him and we have the team to give him the best possible chance of success.”

Froome commented: “It’s always been my plan to ride the Vuelta. I’ll be going into the race as team leader but that’s not to say we don’t have other guys who can be right up there on the GC.

“Rigoberto and Sergio both have huge potential, and Richie is another guy who could shine.

“I’m going to do the best job I can and do whatever’s required of me from the team. Initially I’ll be riding for the GC, but if one of my team-mates shows that they’re in a better place to win the race then I’ll happily work for them. We’re sending a first-rate squad and it should be a really exciting race.”

Swift said he was looking forward to a race that will give him a number of opportunities to open his Grand Tour account: “We’ve got a strong and well-balanced team going to the Vuelta.

“There are a lot of guys there to support Froomey in the mountains and I’m expecting him to have a really good race. He’s been unbelievable this season and I’m sure he’ll be able to continue that form and challenge for the top step on the podium.

“I’m really excited about being the team’s main sprinter. There should be plenty of opportunities for me and I’ll be doing my best to get my first Grand Tour stage win.”

Uran added: “This is a really strong team. Everyone is in form and we have a great chance of replicating our success of last year.

“Froomey is looking in great form and I’ve also had a good preparation for this race, so I am excited to get started.

“The route is very mountainous and there are plenty of summit finishes which will suit mine and Froomey’s styles. There should be plenty of chances to show what I can do and I’ll also be there to help the team as much as possible.”

The race is one of the most eagerly awaited editions of the event, marking the first Grand Tour to be raced by Saxo Bank-Tikoff Bank’s Alberto Contador since his doping ban expired last week.

The Spaniard is currently racing in the Eneco Tour, his first race back, and is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the race for the second time, with Froome seen as his closest rival by some margin.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.