After back-to-back victories in the Tour of Oman in 2013 and 2014, Chris Froome conquered his opening race of the season for the third straight year in a row at the Vuelta a Andalucia on Sunday. The Team Sky leader completed the course two seconds ahead of arch-rival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and described his win as “a big morale boost for the rest of the season.”
With strong head and cross-winds and run off at high pace, too, Froome said Sunday’s final hilly 169.9 kilometre stage from Montilla to Alhaurin de la Torre was “not as easy as I’d imagined but I’m really happy with how my team-mates performed out there, they supported me brilliantly, and I’m very happy with the win, especially as this is the first race of the season.”
As Froome pointed out, this is very early days for 2015, so to do so well from the outset is a great way of kicking off the year. “Being the first race of the season and knowing that I’ve got a lot to build on now as we head towards the Tour - it really couldn’t have gone any better here for us.”
The win continues a tradition for Froome, of taking the opening race of the year, although as he experienced last year in the first part of the season, injuries, illnesses and bad luck can sometimes quickly turn things awry.
”The big thing for me now is to stay on this path and hopefully stay injury and sickness free through the spring, keep chipping away and working away towards the Tour. Winning here again just reminds me how grateful I am to be in this position, and how these wins, no matter how big or small, don’t come easily. You have to work very hard for them.”
“I’m really grateful for the support I have, from obviously my wife at home to support from the team, and everyone in that support infrastructure. I’m really privileged to be able to do what I do.”
Despite such a strong start, Froome does not plan to change his racing build-up, with Tirreno-Adriatico next on the list. “The changes will, if anywhere, be more in the training I’m doing but I think for where I’m at right now, we’re right on where we want to be at this time of the year.”
All in all, Froome’s victory in the Vuelta a Andlaucia is “a great morale boost and also for the guys over in the Algarve, Richie [Porte] winning yesterday, G [Geraint Thomas] winning the overall, Elia [Viviani] won in Dubai [stage two], too, Richie in Down Under. There’s a great buzz in the team and everyone’s excited. Hopefully we can just build on that now.”
Comparing his defeat on Friday’s mountain stage to Saturday’s bounce-back at Allanadas, Froome said “there wasn’t so much of a change for me. It was more Alberto changed in the two days. I rode quite a consistent two stages and Alberto probably had a bit of a bad day yesterday [Saturday].”
Froome was, he insisted, “really happy” despite finishing behind Contador in the time trial and the first, harder, mountain stage. “”The legs felt good even though I’d lost time to Alberto, so we went into the next stage with that same attitude, to do as much as we can, and that was when Alberto cracked a bit.”
His conclusion, too, about Andalucia is that it was a good choice to make for him as his first race of the season. “You look at the files and the numbers, it’s good, hard on racing, it’s going to move you on in terms of your progression and form. I’m really glad I’ve come here and not in a sandstorm,” he said, alluding to the Tour of Oman.
As for predictions of Tirreno-Adriatico, where he will cross swords with Contador, as well as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), the two other standout contenders for the 2015 Tour, “it’s going to be another tough race and another chance to test the legs.”