Vuelta a Espana: Chris Froome faces strong field in historic quest

Froome seeking to become only the third man in history to win the Spanish race and the Tour de France in the same season

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The Independent Online

Chris Froome lines up for the start of the Vuelta a España in Marbella on Saturday seeking to become only the third man in history to win the Spanish race and the Tour de France in the same season.

Should the Team Sky rider succeed, his achievement would perhaps even surpass those of Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978), whose doubles came when the Vuelta took place in late spring, almost two months before the Tour.

Since the Vuelta shifted to this late summer slot 20 years ago, the four-week turnaround has deterred Tour winners from taking part. Only Carlos Sastre, in 2008, has even attempted this particular double in that period, and he had to settle for third place.

Froome can draw solace from the fact that his principal rivals this year also raced the Tour, with the men who flanked him on the podium in Paris, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, among the favourites. Fourth-placed Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team-mates Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa are also part of what is a remarkably high-quality field. The big absentee is the defending champion Alberto Contador.

Froome’s form at this point in the campaign is unclear. After flagging in the final days of the Tour, he has spent part of his time since on the lucrative but draining critérium circuit in France and the Benelux countries. Froome and his yellow jersey commanded the highest appearance fees at these exhibition races, but the arduous travel schedule was hardly ideal preparation for a three-week race. Nibali, by contrast, spent the same period training at altitude.

The Vuelta is a less pressured affair than the Tour and Froome has usually found the more relaxed ambience to his liking. “I have great memories of this race and I’m pleased to be back,” he said.

Froome’s surprise second-place finish and spell in the overall lead here in 2011 heralded his belated arrival at cycling’s top table and he returned to take fourth in 2012, while another second place at last year’s Vuelta marked a turning point at the end of a trying season.

This time, the onus will be on the contenders for the winner’s red jersey to start well in the opening days in Andalusia, with the first of the Vuelta’s nine summit finishes coming on stage two to Caminito del Rey on Sunday.

Before that, Froome and his rivals must negotiate this evening’s team time trial from Puerto Banus to Marbella, though it was announced on Friday it would not count towards the final general classification after complaints from riders who were startled to discover the 7.4km course included sections on a dirt and sand-covered bike path.

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