Four weeks on from landing his second Tour victory, Froome returns to the fray seeking to become only the third man, after Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978), to win the Tour and Vuelta in the same season.
Historically, riders who have landed Grand Tour doubles have tended to describe the second leg as something of a grind compared to the first, and Froome appeared resigned to a similar scenario when he spoke to reporters ahead of the Vuelta presentation in Benahavís on Friday evening.
“I’m definitely not in the same condition that I was at the Tour de France, there’s no mistake about that, but I’m here and I’m motivated,” Froome said. “I’d like to give it everything I’ve got. It’s a long race, and hopefully I’ll be able to ride into it.”
The riders who placed second, third and fourth at the Tour – Movistar duo Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, and Vincenzo Nibali of Astana – are all on hand again in Spain, and while logic would suggest Froome is the natural favourite amongst them, they have each approached the four-week turnaround in different ways.
“Up until now my whole season has been built around the Tour de France and that included blocks of altitude training to time the conditioning perfectly so I’d arrive at the Tour in the best shape possible,” Froome said. “This Vuelta I’m basically doing it on the back of a Tour de France and just coming in with what I’ve got. They’re two very different scenarios.”
Twelve months ago, Froome arrived at the Vuelta following a longer lay-off, having crashed out of the Tour in the opening week, but a more fragile state of morale to boot. In 2012, meanwhile, he was by his own admission running on empty after the Tour and the London Olympics, and had to settle for a distant fourth place overall. Each autumn, it seems, brings its own challenge.
“I think it’s always a different approach to the Vuelta,” he said. “You can’t necessarily say one Vuelta is like another, you arrive in different condition because some years the Tour de France is harder than others. Every year is its own scenario.”
More so than the Giro or the Tour, the Vuelta has the feel of a race where just about anything could happen. Juan José Cobo and Chris Horner have been surprise winners in recent years, while the race was also the site of Froome’s sudden and wholly unexpected transformation into a genuine Grand Tour contender in 2011.
“It’s a race that’s really special to me,” Froome said. “I got my first professional victory here in 2011, it was the first time I wore the leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour, so I’ve got some very special memories from the Vuelta. It’s always a race towards the end of the season that I enjoy doing. It’s more relaxed than the Tour de France but the racing is just as hard.
“It’s a race I’d love to win, no mistake about it. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year but I really do love this race.”
Team time trial
The Vuelta gets underway with a team time trial from Puerto Banus to Marbella on Saturday evening, though the battle for overall victory only begins in earnest on a day later. Following concerns over the safety of the seafront time trial course, the times on the opening stage will not count towards the general classification, a decision welcomed by Froome.
“At the end of the day the safety of the riders always has to be in mind,” Froome said. “I think that’s a wise decision from the race organisers and I thank them for making that concession.”
Further down the line, Froome picked out the demanding stage 11 to Andorra and its 5,200 metres of vertical climbing as one the Vuelta’s key days, along with the Burgos time trial in the final week. In the longer term, he acknowledged that the race also marks, at least in one sense, the beginning of his 2016 campaign – mindful, no doubt, that the past five Tours have all been won by men who raced the Vuelta the preceding Autumn.
“It would have been premature to shut things down straight after the Tour de France. It would have been a long, long time to get back into things,” Froome said. “And who knows, maybe it means I can have a bit of a slower start to the season next year, thinking about the Tour and the Olympics.”
Four days before the Vuelta began, Froome posted a short video clip on social media to highlight that he had begun physiological testing at the GlaxoSmithKline Human Performance Lab in London, part of an attempt to allay some of the suspicions that greeted his high level of performance during his two Tour victories.
Asked if he could provide more details of what the testing entailed, as well as a possible timeframe for the release of the results, Froome said: “It’s all being done completely independently and when the testing and analysis has been completed, I’ll release that, hopefully before the end of the year.”
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