LOGRONO, Spain (VN) — When Chris Froome was asked what he would do to try to beat Team Sky in his position in this Vuelta a España, he just laughed.
“Go for stages?” he said with a shrug.
“I’ve got a lot of rivals here at a very high level, but with the team I’ve got here, I am in such a privileged position. As we saw [Sunday], I didn’t have to stick my nose in the wind until the last kilometer. They’ve kept the red jersey on my shoulders this past week.”
Team Sky brought a Tour de France-level team to this Vuelta, and it’s paving the way for Froome’s imminent victory.
The Vuelta version of “Fortress Froome” (just call it Fortaleza Froome) was in full display Sunday, with four teammates leading him up the grinding, unrelenting Sierra Nevada climb. A long-distance Hail Mary from Alberto Contador fizzled under the unrelenting pressure, and Froome ended up expanding his lead over Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) by a few precious seconds coming into Tuesday’s decisive time trial.
Rivals are exasperated. With Sky so strong and Tuesday’s time trial poised to only bolster Froome’s grip on red, this Vuelta might quickly turn into a race for stage wins and podium placings.
“Beating Froome is very complicated,” admitted Contador. “There are people who could cause him some pain, like [Astana’s Miguel Ángel] López, but Froome rarely has to even got to the front of the peloton. He has his team around him all the time.”
Team Sky finally brought its winning Tour blueprint to the Vuelta a España. And it’s paying dividends. After finishing second three times, Froome is poised to become the first rider to win the Tour and Vuelta in succession.
Italy’s Nibali presents the most direct threat, but he admitted Froome is looking unbeatable right now with the support he is seeing from Team Sky. Nibali tried in vain to attack Sunday, only to later lose time. He starts Tuesday’s time trial at second overall, 1:01 back.
“I said before, Froome is favored for the time trial Tuesday, so it’s difficult to imagine what will happen this week,” Nibali said. “On Sunday, Froome could stay on the wheel, because he had teammates who controlled the race until the end. They brought him to the final 500 meters, where all he had to do was sprint.”
To prepare for this Vuelta, Froome tweaked his approach to the 2017 season. He had one eye on the Vuelta since the beginning of the year, and even started his season late. He didn’t take his first win until he won the yellow jersey in Paris in July.
Rather than hit the beach, Froome buckled down, riding 2,000km of training between the Tour and Vuelta and spending time at an altitude camp. And he built his season with the idea of having something left for the third week of the Vuelta.
“Everyone is at their limit right now,” Froome said. “Anyone who goes very deep in the time trial [Tuesday] will likely pay for it on Machucos [Wednesday’s summit finale]. It’s all razor thin right now.”
So far, Froome has been up to the task, but it’s been his strong team that’s helped clear the way for his anaconda-grip on red. Up to now, there have not been any successful ambushes or Formigal-style attacks to knock Froome off his game.
“It’s a dream scenario,” Froome said on Monday’s rest day. “To come here after the Tour de France, to still feel the way I am feeling. The way we planned the season is paying off now. I think we are in a great position to be in with the time trial [Tuesday] and heading into the last mountain stages.”
Observers often say that Team Sky is so deep it has enough riders to field two Tour de France teams.
This year, it has, but it brought one of them to the Vuelta.
Froome on motors
ITV’s Daniel Friebe asked Froome about a recent investigation into the use of illegal motors in the peloton. Here’s what Froome said:
“I haven’t had time to watch the documentary. I don’t know how much truth there is to it. I don’t know if they had the UCI technology or not. The most important thing is that they are doing the checks. They’ve been physically dismantling the bikes, and looking inside for motors. In my opinion, I cannot step up to the start line and believe that someone is using a motor. That would be too much. It would be too much mentally to even get up to the start line, and think that some of my rivals are using a motor. It’s not something I think about. I certainly hope if there is anyone out there using a motor, I would hope that they would get caught very quickly.”