Bradley Wiggins makes his return to competitive action on Saturday as leader of a strong Sky line-up at the Vuelta a España. The Englishman has not raced since a broken collarbone ended his Tour de France challenge on stage 7.
Wiggins had entered the French race with high expectations after his victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné in June, and he will now be aiming to make amends for his ill fortune at the Tour with a strong showing in his debut Vuelta. He will be flanked by a solid cadre of climbers in Spain, including Thomas Lofkvist, Xabier Zandio and Dario Cioni.
“I'm looking forward to making my return at the Vuelta a España,” Wiggins said. “It's a race I haven't ridden before so it'll be exciting to take part in and I want to produce a strong performance for all those people who have supported me since my crash at the Tour de France. The level of encouragement I've received has been overwhelming and I'd like to do everyone proud. I have a great team here to support me and it should be a really exciting three weeks of racing."
Sky team principal Dave Brailsford welcomed Wiggins’ return to action, but warned that his current state of form is something of an unknown given that he has been sidelined from competitive action since the Tour.
"Having Bradley back has reinvigorated us all,” Brailsford admitted. “He will lead the team and has recovered and trained well since his operation, but the fact he hasn't been able to race for seven weeks means we will have to take things day by day.”
In spite of Wiggins’ early withdrawal from the Tour, Sky enjoyed considerable success in July thanks largely to Edvald Boasson Hagen’s haul of two stage victories. Brailsford is hopeful that the team can continue in the same vein at the Vuelta.
As well as aiding Wiggins’ overall aspirations, Sky have a number of other riders who will be in the shake-up for stage victory, such as fast man Chris Sutton, while Kurt-Asle Arvesen will ride his final Grand Tour before retiring at the end of the season.
“Chris Froome and Ian Stannard's inclusion demonstrates once again the depth of British talent we have in the squad, while Morris Possoni and Chris Sutton have also impressed us again this season with their respective climbing and sprint capabilities,” Brailsford said.
Sky’s first Vuelta a España came to a premature end last September when the team withdrew from the race following the death of soigneur Txema González after he contracted a bacterial infection. The Vuelta visits his hometown of Vitoria on the final weekend, and Brailsford acknowledged that it would be a poignant occasion for his team.
“The penultimate stage which ends in his home town of Vitoria will be a particularly difficult day for everyone involved,” Brailsford said. “While Txema will forever be in our thoughts, this year's race should help aid the healing process though and allow people to focus on the future.”
Sky team for Vuelta a España, August 20-September 11:
Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard, Chris Froome, Chris Sutton, Morris Possoni, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Thomas Lofkvist, Xabier Zandio and Dario Cioni.