Team Sky’s Chris Froome says he has “unfinished business” with the Vuelta as the Tour de France champion aims to become just the third man in history to win both Grand Tours in the same season – and the first to win the Spanish race since it moved in 1995 from springtime to its current late-season spot.
This year’s 72nd edition of the Spanish Grand Tour starts on Saturday in Nîmes, France with a team time trial that starts and finishes at the Roman arena that for more than 150 years has acted as the city’s bullring.
Froome, fresh from winning the Tour de France for the fourth time, has been runner-up three times at the Vuelta – in 2011, 2014 and 2016.
He is seeking to join Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault as the only riders to also win the Vuelta in the same year, which the French riders did in 1963 and 1978, respectively.
12 months ago, the potential Tour-Vuelta double was on for Froome but a long season took its toll as he lost time to his rivals on Stage 15. This year, his build-up to the Tour de France was more low-key than previously, as he aims to maintain his form through to the end of the Vuelta.
He will be joined by two of the riders who helped him clinch that fourth yellow jersey last month, Christian Knees and Mikel Nieve, as well as the Italian trio of Diego Rosa, Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio, plus Wout Poels, David Lopez and Ian Stannard.
“It certainly feels as if I’ve got unfinished business with this race,” Froome said in a video interview released by Team Sky.
“I’ve finished second three times now, so it would just be incredible to win.”
Reflecting on the other overall contenders, he said: “My main rivals at this year’s Vuelta will be the likes of Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru who were in great shape at the Tour.
“Then there’s guys who maybe haven’t done the Tour and will have focused more on being ready for the Vuelta – Vincenzo Nibali, Bob Jungels, Adam Yates from Orica, who will also have [twin brother] Simon riding with him.”
Turning to the route, the Team Sky rider said: “I think this year’s Vuelta has certainly got a good balance between time trialling and mountain top finishes.
“With nine mountain top finishes it’s heavily weighted for the climbers but, with an individual time trial of over 40 kilometres, there could be minutes won or lost there as well.
“It’s a great balance between the pure climbers, and the rouleurs who can time trial. I think it’s going to be a really exciting and well-balanced race.”
“I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Vuelta,” he continues. “I think we’ve got a lot more purpose and it feels like we’re on much more of a mission this year.
“I don’t think we’ve been to the Vuelta a Espana with a team as strong and as focused on the Vuelta as we are this year, and I’m certainly going into the race with a lot of confidence in the team around me.”
Regarding the prospect of that rare double, he added: “It’s been a huge motivation for me, given that no one in the modern era has done the Tour-Vuelta double.
“It’s an even bigger challenge for me than just targeting the Tour de France, so my motivation couldn’t be higher at this point.”
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: “Every Vuelta is important as it is a Grand Tour but this year we are more motivated than ever to try to win it. I believe this Vuelta can be a defining moment for Team Sky and for Chris Froome.”
Making reference to the Tour-Vuelta doubles achieved by Anquetil and Hinault, he said: “This year Chris has the chance to write history alongside them and cement his place as one of the all-time greats of the sport.
“But we know from experience just how tough and competitive the Vuelta is as a race. This year is no different with one of the very hardest mountain top finishes on the Angliru on the penultimate stage.
“We go into the race with Chris supported by another group of very talented riders. It is great to have Wout Poels back after injury and it is an opportunity for him to put his mark on the season after a challenging year. Gianni Moscon will also be riding his first Grand Tour. He is an exciting talent with a lot to offer the team.”
Brailsford added: “I was very proud of how we rode the Tour this year - the teamwork and the way our riders supported each other was exceptional. This group go into the race with the same mindset and we will give them every support we can to help them succeed together.”
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.