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Tête-à-tête with Contador looms as both riders head to Spain
The first Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) showdown of 2014 will take place at the seven-stage Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the fourth-oldest cycling stage race in the world, beginning on Monday.
Neither rider has won the race but the WorldTour event will be a vital test before their expected face off at the Tour de France. Numerous Spaniards have won the race while Robert Millar in 1985 is the only British rider to win the race.
Despite defending his Tour of Oman title in February, Froome was pulled from Tirreno-Adriatico due to a back injury and took a precautionary break from racing. Richie Porte was then drafted into Sky's team for the Italian race, forgoing his defence of the Paris-Nice title he won last year to the ire of ASO.
"It's definitely been disappointing to miss out on Tirreno. It was an important race for me and offered me a good opportunity to build on the form I had at the Tour of Oman," Froome told TeamSky.com.
"With my back problem though, we felt it was a better idea to play it safe and look at the bigger picture, which is making sure I'm ready for the Tour de France in July. We've erred on the side of caution in that respect.
"I'm training hard for that right now and looking forward to competing again. It's a very testing race and they've put some pretty hard stages in there with some tough summit finishes. It's going to be a good test for everyone, and with it being a WorldTour race, we've got a really strong squad going there.
The first stage of the race contains three categorised climbs over 165km of racing with a fast run to the finish sure to decide the early leader of the race and could possibly see a resumption of the rivalry between Froome and Contador before the big mountain stages.
"I've ridden Catalunya twice before at Team Sky and really enjoyed it. It's hard to find races that go high up into the mountains at this time of year, but Catalunya always provides that and it attracts the best general classification riders as a result."
While Bradley Wiggins has withdrawn from the race to focus on Paris-Roubaix, Sky will have a strong squad in support of Froome including Nathan Earle who recently impressed at the Tour du Haut Var with his climbing abilities.
Team Sky for Volta Ciclista a Catalunya: Chris Froome Richie Porte, David Lopez, Vasil Kiryienka, Nathan Earle, Mikel Nieve, Danny Pate and Kanstantsin Siutsou.