Froome prepares to do battle in Vuelta a España

Vuelta a España contender Chris Froome expects cycling's third Grand Tour of 2012 to be an open, hard race with major general classification battles almost as soon as it gets underway on Saturday.

"We hit the mountains in the second or third stage, and there's no let-up from there on," Froome said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

"The last climb is the day before we reach Madrid, so the race is still 'on' right up until that point. There will be everything to race for right up until then."

"I don't know any of the climbs, so I'll be taking it on the day by day, seeing how it goes."

"It's been a long season, but I feel like I'm in good physical condition. More importantly I have a strong team behind me, there are several riders in the team that could be in the top 10 in Madrid."

Froome finished second in last year's Vuelta and second in the Tour de France, both times racing alongside Bradley Wiggins. The Vuelta 2012 is the first time he will be the sole leader of Sky.

"Leading is a new experience for me but at the end of the day, it's the same job, you've still got to pedal. I'm more in the limelight but I've got the team and the ability to carry this all through."

"This race is definitely a great opportunity for me, I will do my part and I know the rest of the team is ready."

"We've been really successful so far and hopefully we can carry on with the same momentum. The goal has to be to do the best we can on GC and if we can pick up a few stages with Swifty [sprinter Ben Swift] then that would be ideal for us."

Tipped as the 'only rider who can beat Contador in the Vuelta' by many members of the media, Froome responds, "I can't really say. I haven't ever raced with him, and I can only speak for my own condition. I'm sure he's very motivated after his suspension and obviously in the Vuelta, his home race, it'll be added motivation for him. We'll find out during the race."

Froome is also looking ahead to the world championships as a possible target, because as he says, it's very frequently the case that riders who have done the Vuelta have good condition there. There's also a similar gap between the end of the Vuelta and the Worlds TT to the one between the Tour and the Olympics, where he took bronze in the time trial as well as working flat out for Mark Cavendish in the road-race in between.

What will be different in the Vuelta, in any case, is that he will not be racing alongside Wiggins in a Grand Tour.

"It's definitely going to be a change, a new experience for me. I'm not riding at someone else's speed. I'd like to think I've learned from the last two Grand Tours I've done how to pace myself, how I need to ride to be in optimum position throughout three weeks, not just a couple of days."

"It's interesting, exciting. I personally don't know how I'm going to be in terms of form. I might go to the second stage and say 'this is too tough' or or I might say, ‘I've got the legs, let's carry on."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.