A crash may have wrecked his Tour de France this year, but Chris Froome bounced back for a morale-boosting fourth Grand Tour podium of his career on Sunday, finishing second overall in the Vuelta a Espana to Alberto Contador.
Froome’s second place, 70 seconds behind Contador, comes after both he and the Spaniard crashed out of the Tour de France with injuries, in the Kenyan-born Briton’s case a broken hand and wrist, in Contador’s a broken tibia.
Both riders thus started the Vuelta with sizable question-marks over their overall condition. While Contador appears to have recovered faster, both he and Froome were adamant they were not in their top form in the Vuelta – the implication being they have a lot more to give when they duel again for cycling’s top event, the Tour de France, next July.
Second in the 2011 Vuelta and fourth in 2012, Froome’s return to the runners-up spot came after an uneven start to the Spanish Grand Tour, losing time first in the team time trial and then even more in the mid-race individual race against the clock.
Since then Froome has shown steadily rising form, but despite gaining a handful of seconds on Contador on two summit finishes, on the most difficult mountain stages on each occasion the Sky rider has been decisively defeated by the Spaniard.
“I really gave it everything. He was better than me,” Froome told a huddle of journalists at the summit finish on Saturday at Ancares, when he lost 15 seconds to Contador as the Spaniard dropped him with 800 metres to go and claimed his second stage win.
With the race all but decided at Ancares, Froome reflected: “I think given how I’ve come into this race, I couldn’t be happier with this result. I didn’t know if I was coming here to fight for top 10, to fight for the podium or to fight for the win.”
“So this is really going to give me a lot of motivation going forward.”
A very short final time trial yesterday in Santiago de Compostela changed almost nothing, with Italy’s Adriano Malori profiting from an early start, prior to a torrential thunderstom, to take the win.
The very slippery, rainsoaked road surface meant none of the main favourites, all with late starts, were prepared to take excessive risks – particularly, perhaps, after the crashes of this summer.
Froome finally finished 63rd on the stage, with his second place overall behind Contador safely in the bag. Contador, meanwhile, finished 101st, to claim the sixth Grand Tour of his career. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde was third overall, for a second year running.
As the Briton has pointed out, without ideal training and with two serious injuries this summer, finishing the Vuelta has helped laid the foundations for his 2015 season – and a fight for a second Tour.
“I did everything I could, I have no regrets,” Froome said yesterday evening.
“Alberto was very, very impressive in this Vuelta: if I’ve learned anything from here, it’s not to let him get any time because I’m not going to get it back.”
Sky have also turned in a strong collective performance in the Vuelta. Time and again when the road steepened or the dangerous mountain descents, the British national champion’s jersey of Pete Kennaugh has appeared at the spearhead of the bunch, whittling down the peloton before the team’s specialist climbers, and finally Froome, took over.
Ireland’s Philip Deignan and Belarus-born Vasil Kiryienka have also performed impressively well for Sky on the more difficult ascents.
British interest in the 2014 Vuelta was in no way been limited to Froome and Kennaugh, either. Both Luke Rowe at Sky and Adam Yates at Orica-GreenEdge have worked hard for their respective team leaders throughout – both completing their first Grand Tours, in Yates’ case in his debut professional year.
For Britain’s David Millar, though, the opposite is true, with the Vuelta his last Grand Tour before the Garmin Sharp pro retires. The Scot, Britain’s first ever rider to lead in all three Grand Tours, courageously insisted on completing the course despite fractures in two fingers and a rib from a crash a week last Sunday.Reuse content