Vuelta a Espana

Froome returns to Angliru to close Vuelta circle

It all started on the Anglirú, and Froome is hoping he can close the circle Saturday to secure the overall title Sunday in Madrid.

GIJON, Spain (VN) — Cycling’s most notorious climb changed everything for Chris Froome in 2011.

And now six years later, the Anglirú summit Saturday could see the Sky captain secure the elusive Vuelta a España title he’s been chasing ever since.

“It’s a massive way to finish off the GC battle in this Vuelta,” Froome said. “I am feeling good. The motivation is high. The team is strong. I hope to finish off the job.”

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Back in the 2011 Vuelta, Froome was still a largely unknown racer who was showing the first glimpses of his grand tour potential. After some strong early showings, Froome was looking better than Sky captain Bradley Wiggins when the Vuelta hit the Anglirú in stage 14.

With the dangerous Juan José Cobo taking big gains the previous stages, Team Sky gave the then-unknown Froome the green light to attack on the fearsome steeps of the Anglirú.

That was the first chance for the emerging Froome to ride for himself, and he took it on with gusto. Froome finished fourth on the stage at 48 seconds behind Cobo, who won the stage to take over the leader’s jersey. Wiggins trailed through fifth at 1:21 back. It was the first signs of fracture between the two riders that would carry over into the 2012 season.

“I have quite good memories from back then, but it’s a grueling climb,” he said. “I hope I have the same legs that I did back in 2011.”

Froome was letting it be known he had the right stuff to race grand tours on the steeps of one of Europe’s most precipitous climbs. Some say Team Sky miscalculated and Froome’s freedom came too late. He would finish second to Cobo by 13 seconds in that year’s Vuelta, but it was the Anglirú that announced Froome’s arrival.

Flash forward six years,and Froome returns to the Anglirú for the first time since that breakout 2011 Vuelta.

Today, he is the peloton’s undisputed grand tour king. And he is poised to become the first rider since Marco Pantani to win back-to-back grand tours in the same season.

The only thing higher than Anglirú’s lofty summit is the stakes.

“It’s not something that I am thinking about in that context,” Froome said. “Maybe in the bigger picture, you might be able to draw some conclusions like that. I am literally counting down the kilometers to get to Madrid at this point. If I can get to Madrid in the red jersey, that would be incredible.”

Froome started the 2011 Vuelta as a top lieutenant to Wiggins, who was also looking to confirm his grand tour credentials. By the end of the race, it was becoming obvious to those inside the Team Sky bus that Froome was a rider with a grand tour future.

“It was in 2011 that I was given the freedom to go for it,” Froome said. “Brad was struggling on the slopes of the Anglirú and I still felt good, and got the green light to push on and go for it.”

Froome gapped Wiggins in that year’s Anglirú climb, and later finished ahead of him in the Vuelta, with Froome second and Wiggins third.

In what was foreshadowing of what would later become more obvious during the 2012 Tour, Team Sky just started to realize Froome’s grand tour potential during that year’s Vuelta.

“That [2011] Vuelta was very important to me. I showed I could race grand tours,” Froome said. “What has come after that all started there.”

Froome would later eclipse Wiggins, and win four of the past five editions of the Tour.

Back in the Vuelta for the first time since 2013, when Chris Horner sealed his overall victory against Vincenzo Nibali, the colossus of the north will sentence this Vuelta.

Things are stacking up in Froome’s favor. Froome survived Friday’s deceptively challenging 19th stage, and carries a lead of 1:37 to second-place Nibali. Backed by an impressive Team Sky, Froome looks poised to finally win the Vuelta after three second-places. All he has to do it is follow the wheels and avoid a disaster.

“It would be amazing to win the toughest climb in this race at Anglirú,” Froome said. “The biggest objective is to wear the red jersey after tomorrow.”

It all started on the Anglirú, and Froome is hoping he can close the circle Saturday to secure the overall title Sunday in Madrid.