Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are widely rated as the top two favourites for the Vuelta a España, but according to Team Sky sporting director Sean Yates, who knows both riders well - he directed Froome to second overall in the Tour behind team-mate Bradley Wiggins, and also Contador when he won the 2008 Giro - when it comes to trying to beat the Spaniard, it will be as much about teamwork by Sky as it will be about Froome himself.
“Alberto’s very good on the steep climbs the Vuelta has, the ones where you need to make big, sudden accelerations,” Yates told Cyclingnews.
“But we’ve got a very strong team going there, so we’ll be able to control him unless he’s back to his absolute best where we’ll try and ride across to him when he attacks.”
“We know his strongest weapon is that sudden acceleration on the climbs, but we’ve got the kind of team that can pull that back and launch Chris up to him.”
With two strong Columbian climbers, Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao - both top ten finishers in the 2012 Giro, with Urán taking the Best Young Rider’s jersey - as well as Richie Porte and Froome himself, Yates points out that Sky have some serious firepower for the mountains.
“I can imagine a similar scenario to the Tour [de France] where we would control the likes of [podium finisher Vincenzo] Nibali, even if you can’t really compare Nibali with Contador because they’re different kinds of riders.”
The overall time differences, in any case, Yates believes will be much smaller in the Tour than in the Vuelta. “It’ll be little bits and pieces [of time] here and there, it’ll be close. You can’t make an attack there [in the mountains] from a long way out.”
As for the opening team time trial, where Sky are tipped as favourites, Yates says he is not expecting huge differences “because it’s too short for that, particularly if it’s technical. You can only go so fast around a corner.”
Meanwhile Spain’s top rider of all time, Miguel Indurain - who grew up very close to Pamplona - told Marca on Saturday that “if Contador is in good shape, then with ten summit finishes the Vuelta could be very suitable for him.”
“But as he’s not raced for a long time, so his race form is not clear yet, although he’s a rider who almost always is in good shape.”
“With this kind of route” - with summit finishes as early as stages three and four - “we’ll see very soon if he can or can’t win, although the same goes for Froome, [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar), Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez - Katusha], [Juan Jose] Cobo (Movistar) and [Jurgen] Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)."
Together with former Banesto team-mate Txente García Acosta, Indurain has lent a hand in the team time trial design, which is largely flat. However in the last part of the stage, leading to the finish in the Pamplona bullring, there are a couple of short, stiff uphill sections as well as some sharper corners and even some cobbled streets for the riders to tackle.
“We start in the modern side of Pamplona and finish in the old part,” Indurain told Marca. “It’s got a little bit of everything.”
“The early part goes down broad, open avenues where you get a good pace going. Some people say the last part is dangerous but everybody knows it. So it’s up to the cyclists how much of a risk they want to take.
“The team time trial is the toughest discipline in cycling, and on top of that it is short and it’s at the start of the Vuelta.” So everybody, in theory at least, will be in top condition, making for fast times and no real margin for error. Just to make the racing even more challenging, temperatures of a scorching 41 degrees are expected this evening in Pamplona - not ideal for maintaining concentration.