MADRID, Aug 22, 2014 (AFP) – Chris Froome will go head-to-head with in-form
Colombian rider Nairo Quintana when the final Grand Tour of the season, the
Tour of Spain, gets underway in Jerez on Saturday.
Froome’s defence of the Tour de France was ended by hand injuries after a
series of nasty falls just five stages into the race last month, but he has
recovered in time to try and make up for that disappointment to take his place
as Team Sky leader.
“This is exactly the sort of challenge that I need after the disappointment
of withdrawing from the Tour de France,” the 29-year-old Kenyan born star said.
“You can’t dwell on disappointment, you have to move on quickly to the next
thing and the Vuelta has become the perfect race for me to focus on.”
The gruelling 21-stage race features eight mountain finishes, two
individual time trials and gets underway with a team time-trial through Jerez.
In a break from tradition the final stage will also be an individual time
trial into the northwestern city Santiago de Compostela rather than the final
day parade around Madrid.
Sky sporting director Dario Cioni is hoping a fast start can give Froome
the upper hand.
“With the team time trial straight away we have an opportunity to give
Chris a head start,” he told skysports.com
“We’ve got a strong team here so why not aim to have a fast start and get a
good result for the team? And a good result is going to be to try and win the
Movistar’s Quintana has been in sublime form this season as he claimed his
first Grand Tour victory in the Giro d’Italia in June before also winning on
his return to action in the Tour of Burgos last week.
He should also be fresher than his rivals having not competed in the Tour
de France despite coming second to Froome in 2013. The 24-year-old, though,
has stiff competition just to be the lead rider in his own team as Movistar
have named both he and 2009 Tour of Spain winner Alejandro Valverde as
co-leaders for the race.
“Having Nairo and Alejandro we have to start with the intention of fighting
to win,” said Movistar’s general manager Eusebio Unzue.
“Nairo, after 70 days without competing, has return to show his
professionalism to get to the start line in great condition and we know
Alejandro is a very important man for us and can also be in the fight for the
However, Unzue is still wary of the threat caused by Froome.
“Froome has been dominant in the Grand Tours over the past few years and
therefore out of respect he ought to be favourite.”
Two-time winner Alberto Contador will also be making his return after a
broken shinbone forced him out of the Tour de France. However, the Spaniard
has played down expectations that he can challenge for the overall victory
given his lack of preparation time.
“I know that it is a Tour of Spain that I will have to plan very
differently from what I had intended at the start of the season or how I
planned at the start of the Tour de France.
“But I think I can come into the race thinking about ending the season well
and starting next year with more guarantees.
“Perhaps in the last week I will be able to fight for a stage victory.”
Defending champion American Chris Horner will be aiming to repeat his
remarkable surge to victory last year which saw him aged 41 become the oldest
ever champion in a Grand Tour.
Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez is also likely to cause a threat in the
mountains as he rides for Katusha.