Froome hoping he can reign in Spain and rescue season
In the hierarchy of cycling’s Grand Tours, the Vuelta a Espana ranks third out of three. But this season, it could prove to be the best of the lot.
Nairo Quintana’s dominance amid a dearth of real contenders made the Giro d’Italia seem all too easy, while injuries decimated the Tour de France field and left the door wide open for Vincenzo Nibali. And so fans are looking to the Vuelta – where six former Grand Tour winners will line up for today’s opening team time trial – for a real battle to be fought.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador – the latter a two-time winner of his home Grand Tour – return after injuries ended their bids for Tour glory, but whether either yet has the form or fitness to challenge for victory remains to be seen.
What is clear is that neither man is talking like a potential winner.
“Perhaps in the last week, I can fight for a stage win,” Contador said of his prospects, while Froome simply spoke in general terms of getting back on track after the disappointment of the Tour.
“I have always really enjoyed racing at the Vuelta, it’s a tough race but a great opportunity,” he said. “I know that the level of competition will be incredibly high this year, but we have got a strong line up.”
That leaves Movistar’s Quintana as the clear favourite after he skipped the Tour entirely, with the young Colombian apparently in much better shape than his older team-mate and co-captain, former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valderde.
Garmin-Sharp, meanwhile, will have a three-pronged attack with Irishman Dan Martin and American Andrew Talansky returning from injury and former Giro winner Ryder Hesjedel bringing plenty of experience to the table.
Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez (35) is missing a Grand Tour victory off an otherwise impressive palmares, and where better to win one than on home soil.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who are without sprinter Mark Cavendish, will instead put everything into Giro runner-up Rigoberto Uran’s bid for glory, while Nibali’s Astana team will be backing 24-year-old Italian Fabio Aru, who was third in Italy.
Defending champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) has been withdrawn from the race by his team after treatment for bronchitis took his levels of cortisol below the minimum level expected by the Movement for Credible Cycling.
The 42-year-old had been given a therapeutic use exemption for the treatment by the International Cycling Union but Lampre-Merida have replaced the American with Valerio Conti. Irish interest will centre on a fit-again Martin and Froome’s team-mate at Sky, Philip Deignan.
Vuelta a Espana,
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