A fall during training prior to the Vuelta a España on Thursday means Chris Froome (Team Sky) had an unwelcome reminder of the multiple crashes that saw him abandon the Tour de France last July - but there was a major difference this time round. The Sky leader was uninjured from his fall and he remains fully on track for tomorrow’s start.
Froome’s track record in the Vuelta a España is a very strong one: in 2011 he finished second overall, led the race early on and took a spectacular stage victory against final winner Juan Jose Cobo at Peña Cabarga’s notoriously difficult uphill finish. The combined result proved to be a dramatic breakthrough in GC racing for the Kenyan-born Briton.
Then in 2012, after taking second in the Tour, Froome claimed fourth overall in the Vuelta despite being tired after racing flat out in July. After missing the race in 2013, on his return to the Vuelta this year, Froome, now with a Tour win in his palmares, starts cycling’s third Grand Tour of the season as one of the top favourites.
Froome reported the crash on his Twitter feed saying: “Recced Saturday’s ttt course today [Thursday], Jerez must have more roundabouts than other city in Spain if the race route is anything to go by!!”
“Took a tumble on an oil patch going around one of them, couldn’t believe it, back on the deck again!!! All good though!”
“He crashed during the training [on Thursday] but he is ok,” Team Sky sports director Dario Cioni told Cyclingnews on Friday morning.
The opening 12.6 kilometre team time trial has a lot of roundabouts, and Sky were practicing how they would tackle them when Froome fell. “It was off the course, we had included the roundabouts as a simulation for the TTT, luckily it was a small roundabout so we had to go in slowly and he just slipped. He’s ok.”
Overall condition-wise, Cioni says “we need a few stages to see exactly where he is. This is his first race back since the Tour so he might be a little short of race rhythm, but given the time and the injury he had, he has done everything to be as ready as possible here.”
“It’s important for him to race this Grand Tour and our plan is to commit right through to the end. We don’t know if that’s going to be good enough for tenth place, the podium or the overall victory, and if you look at the competitors, it’s going to be a tough one.”
“But we also know Chris and he likes to commit and go for it. We don’t expect any specific result, except to go for it all the way to the finish.”
The team, though, is definitely angled towards making a GC bid with Froome, with what Cioni calls “a good spread of riders. We’ve got good climbers, good riders for hilly stages, good riders for the flat. The team is built around Chris and the goal is to go with him for the best result possible.”
The route, Cioni says, “is challenging, as always in the Vuelta, maybe less extreme on the final climbs in the previous editions. Chris has already taken second and fourth here, so it’s clear his style of racing is suited to the Vuelta.”
Curiously enough, the Vuelta’s first summit finish, on stage six of La Zubia, comes on the same road where Cioni won a stage himself in the Vuelta a Andalusia back in 2007. “My win was just at the bottom of the same climb, on a drag just outside the village, rather than higher up where the Vuelta finishes this year.”
“It was a good win for me, from a break of four or five. I jumped away with one other guy and then rode him off my wheel on the final climb. It was like a sprint, almost - in front of [former World Champion] Oscar Freire, too! It was in my first race with Lotto, so that was good.”
As for tomorrow’s opening team time trial, Cioni says, “with the team we have we are expecting a good result and we wouldn’t be happy below the top three. But we will be remembering, too, that we have a long race ahead of us, and we will be taking some precautions compared to other teams.”
“It would be good to get a good start, allow Chris to get a few seconds advantage.” As for the course itself, “it looks more technical on the map than it actually is.” There are some cobbled sections in the first three kilometres, “which is never easy on a TT bike, but it’s certainly less technical than other team time trials I’ve seen on the Vuelta. Even with the roundabouts, it’s a high speed course.”
Sky have not, yet, discussed which rider will cross the line first, and therefore have the right, should Sky win, to take the first leader’s jersey. As for the last one of the 2014 Vuelta, though - it is very clear which rider Sky would like to see wearing that.