The 67th edition of the Vuelta starts on Saturday with a team time trial in Pamplona, and for the first time, Team Sky’s Chris Froome, runner-up in last year’s edition, leads the outfit into the race as he targets going one better this time round. Ahead of the race, he spoke to organisers about his thoughts on the Vuelta and the coming three weeks.
The 27-year-old Froome comes to the race buoyed by his second place in the Tour de France behind Bradley Wiggins, and of course that bronze medal in the Olympic time trial behind his team mate.
Whereas last year, Froome’s main rival was the previously unheralded – and subsequently anonymous – Juan Jose Cobo, now with Movistar, this time round the strongest challenge is likely to come from the man widely viewed as the best Grand Tour rider of his generation, Alberto Contador, back from his doping ban and looking to win his home Grand Tour which he won in 2008, his only previous participation.
Vuelta organisers Unipublic have tweaked the format a little bit this year, scaling down the amount of time awarded in time bonuses for the first three riders across the line – instead of 20, 12 and 6 seconds for first, second and third place, those will now be 12, 8 and 4 seconds. Even if that system had been in place last year, Cobo would have won, but by 3 seconds instead of 13.
Plenty of summit finishes, however, mean that as last year it is a race to which Froome is well-suited, while the profile of the mountain stages in the Tour de France plus the amount of time trialling in that race favoured Wiggins, despite many insisting that Froome looked the stronger rider.
Froome, who is supported by a Team Sky squad that as in the Tour de France has been selected very much with the mountains in mind, lies second favourite to Contador in the betting, and is relishing the opportunity of racing the Vuelta again.
“Having done all three Grand Tours, I can confidently say I enjoy the Vuelta the most. Last year and the way the race unfolded will always be a highlight for me.
“It was the first race where I was able to show my potential in Grand Tours and consequently gave me the opportunity to target races like the Tour and the Olympics this year.
“Doing the Vuelta again has always been a goal for me this year, and I hope to be able to carry the form from the Tour and the Olympics on for a few more weeks.
Asked whether he believed he could maintain the form he has shown so far this summer over the next three weeks, Froome said; “It’s going to be difficult, but I will certainly do my best. With the Olympics, it has been difficult to focus on preparation for the Vuelta.
“I haven’t seen much of the course myself, but I’m expecting a tough three weeks ahead of me. I hope to get the best out of myself in terms of the general classification, where that is exactly, who knows. I’d certainly love to win a Grand Tour after finishing second in the last two that I’ve done.
“My focus for this year was to be ready for the Tour de France, but this will be the first time for me going in to a Grand Tour as team leader. I just hope to make the most out of it and make it a successful Tour for Team Sky.”
Despite his ban following that positive test for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, Contador, who returned to racing last week in the Eneco Tour, remains favourite for the Vuelta and is guaranteed huge home support.
Froome is asked whether he believes he can be beaten.
“Anything can happen over three weeks, especially in Spain,” is his reply.
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.