Team Sky: the big mountain tests are in the Vuelta a Espana’s second week

Following Saturday’s opening team time trial, the Vuelta a España heads for the hills with a vengeance from stage two onward. But for all the Vuelta has four summit finishes in the next eight days, not everybody is convinced that they will be so decisive for the race’s final outcome.

Team Sky’s sports director Gabriel Rasch, for one, thinks that the hardest demands on the riders will be made in the race’s second week, when the Vuelta tackles the Pyrenees in Andorra’s stage 11, and then makes some daunting incursions into the mountains of northern Spain.

Speaking to Cyclingnews before the start, Rasch said “It’s a race that suits Chris (Froome), a lot of climbing and a long time trial [in the third week] which is good for us.

“We’ll see how this first week goes. But the second week is super-super hard, with a lot of transfers between stages two, too. That’s where the real tests [of strength] will be.”

As for the first week of the Vuelta, Rasch says that the weather - as usual at this time of year, very hot in the south of Spain - and stages like today’s [Sunday’s] climb to El Caminito del Rey will provide some important, if not decisive, shakeouts amongst the overall contenders.

“I think the days going to Seville and Cordoba will be super-hot, but also stage two’s finish is certainly hotter than it is on the coast. We went to see it [on a training ride] on Thursday [before the Vuelta start], it’s a really hard stage,” said Rasch. “It doesn’t look that hard on paper, but it’s very twisty, up and down, up and down, all the time, and the final climb is a solid four kilometre ascent.

“It’s early in the race, and it’s a stage for riders like [Joaquim] Rodriguez (Katusha). [But] we’ll see some clear signs about who can win and lose the race.”

As for Sky’s main man for the Vuelta, Rasch says, “Chris has recovered well after the Tour. For sure he’s not as strong as he was then, but he’s still on a high level.

“It’s the same for G [Geraint Thomas], we don’t know exactly where he is [form-wise], but he should be good.

“Geraint is not a GC contender here, he’ll be important in the second stage for example and then we have Sergio [Henao], he’s coming in really fresh, so is Mikel Nieve. So I think G will be riding more on the front on the lower parts of the mountains, rather than at the finales.”

Quite apart from the huge morale boost that winning the Tour for the second time has automatically provided, Froome’s track record in la Vuelta has always been a solid one, ranging from second overall in his debut in the race in 2011 to fourth in 2012 and second again in 2014. And Rasch says that Sky is more than ready to try to clinch their first ever Tour of Spain.

“We want to do a good race here. We’ve come here with fresh staff, some fresh riders, almost everybody is coming into this race without doing the Tour and they’re really motivated, and so is Chris.”

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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.