Vuelta a Andalusia 2015: Chris Froome and Alberto Contador ready to renew battle for supremacy

The leading cyclists will face off on Wednesday seven months after their forgettable 2014 Tour de France campaigns

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The Independent Online

Seven months after they crashed out of the Tour de France, the much-awaited 2015 duel between road-racing’s two top stars, Britain’s Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, finally gets under way on Wednesday.

The battle between the 29-year-old Sky rider and the 32-year-old Spaniard stretches back to early 2013, when Froome began a relentless run of stage race victories culminating in his Tour de France triumph. And Contador, permanently on the back foot that season after winning a string of Grand Tours in the first part of his career, faced one defeat after another.

In the first half of 2014, as Froome was struggling with  illness and injury, Contador unexpectedly regained the upper hand, winning top races like Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country.

But at the Tour it all went wrong for both riders, as first-week crashes forced them to quit; defending champion Froome with a fractured wrist and hand, Contador with a broken tibia.

The two battled back from their injuries and then fought an enthralling revenge match in the autumn’s Tour of Spain, where Contador inflicted a narrow but clear defeat on a highly tenacious Froome. However, there was no denying that cycling’s biggest prize, the Tour de France, had eluded both in 2014 – although on the plus side, it has redoubled the speculation and expectations for some more spectacular face-offs between the two in 2015.

Both Froome and Contador, racing with the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, seem keen to renew their sporting rivalry, given that with several options on the table they both have chosen the five-day, six-stage Tour of Andalusia as their debut race for 2015.

The rivalry between the two has already been further heightened in pre-season with Contador telling The Independent in December that Froome “is the rider to beat in 2015”, a compliment Froome returned in January, claiming “if anybody knows how to win the Tour, it’s Alberto”.

As a result, Wednesday’s start of the Tour of Andalusia in the fishing port of La Rabida will see the two stars cross paths for the first time this season, after which their battle for stage-racing superiority will stretch all the way to Paris and the Tour de France in July.

Andalusia is by no means an easy start to the year. An 8km time trial on Wednesday will establish an initial pecking order, but Friday’s agonisingly steep 7km ascent to Hazallanas high in the Sierra Nevada mountains will likely decide the winner.