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The white whale: Froome's seven-year quest to win the Vuelta a Espana

Chris Froome in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana leader's jersey

Chris Froome in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana leader's jersey
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Chris Froome may be a four-time winner of the Tour de France, but the Vuelta a España remains something of a white whale for the Sky rider, who has placed second overall three times in five appearances but never succeeded in carrying the red jersey to Madrid.

2017 marks the third time that Froome has attempted to win the Tour-Vuelta double, a feat only ever achieved by Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and never since the Vuelta moved to its current, post-Tour slot on the calendar in 1995.

2011: 2nd overall, 13 seconds behind Juan José Cobo

Six years on, Juan José Cobo's overall victory at the 2011 Vuelta a España is now viewed as something of an aberration – the 'Bison' was last seen in the colours of Turkish Continental outfit Torku Sekerspor in 2014 – but he had a considerably finer pedigree than the man who reached Madrid in second place overall. Cobo had won a stage and placed 10th at the Vuelta in 2009, after all. He had won the Tour of the Basque Country and been retroactively awarded a stage of the 2008 Tour de France. Chris Froome, by contrast, had seemed to come from nowhere.

2012: 4th overall, 10:16 behind Alberto Contador

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months after inching towards the exit at Sky, Froome returned to the Vuelta as team leader at the end of a season that had yielded second place at the Tour de France and a bronze medal in the Olympic Games time trial. Froome had spent the Tour riding shotgun for Wiggins but, like at the 2011 Vuelta, the race had only underscored that he was a far more reliable option in the high mountains than his nominal captain.

2014: 2nd overall, 1:10

After winning the 2013 Tour, Froome eschewed the Vuelta in favour of winding down his season gently at the USA Pro Challenge and the WorldTour races in Montreal. The defence of Froome's Tour title lasted a mere four and a half stages, however, when he broke his scaphoid in a crash on the road to Arenberg, and it meant that his 2014 calendar was hastily redrawn to include the Vuelta.

2015: DNS, stage 12

If the Froome-Contador encounter at the 2014 Vuelta had been a metaphorical opening gambit for the following year's Tour, then Froome took the idea rather more literally after reclaiming the maillot jaune in July 2015. Riding the Vuelta in 2011, 2012 and 2014, he reasoned, had shortened the winter, and provided something of a foundation for successful Tours the following summer. Unlike after his previous Tour win in 2013, Froome decided to prolong the hardship by lining out for the Vuelta.

2016: 2nd overall, 1:23 behind Nairo Quintana

Froome and Sky's strength at the 2016 Tour was such that the race slowly developed into something a procession, and by the time he reached Paris, he was rather more forthright than usual about his intention to attempt the Tour-Vuelta double. Perhaps for the first time, it seemed that the demands of the Spanish race had been factored into his approach to the Tour rather than tacked on as a mere afterthought.