TOMARES, Spain (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) learns quickly and says a situation like last year’s Vuelta a España ambush will not catch him off guard again.
Froome came under fire in the short 118.5-kilometer Formigal mountain stage in 2016 and lost his chance of winning the race overall. Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) shot free as soon as the race started and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) joined him, gaining the time needed to take the overall win a week later.
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“I’m not afraid of that situation on Sunday, like Formigal in 2016, repeating itself again,” Froome explained.
“I have a very different team this year. We are in the leader’s jersey this time, which is different than Formigal. I find it very difficult to see that situation arising again.
“Having said that, we will be ready, and on Sunday, we can expect guys, like Alberto Contador, who are far back on the GC to try.”
Contador lit the 15th stage on fire in 2016 and rode free with Quintana. Froome found himself isolated without teammates shortly afterward.
American Ian Boswell was at the 2016 Vuelta and said, “To be honest, it just happened so quick. We had just done 14 days of racing, and the day before was just an epic day, we were toe-to-toe with Quintana and Froome, and then just 8k into the race, everything changed.”
Sky must keep the race together for two consecutive summit finish stages this weekend: stage 14 with its 12-kilometer finishing climb to La Pandera and stage 15 to Sierra Nevada. Complicating matters, Froome is still recovering from two crashes in Thursday’s stage 12. He says that he feels the worst pain around his hip.
Along with the summit finish, Sunday’s stage 15 has the 16.3km Aldo de Hazallanas. Plus, all the action happens within a short 129.4 kilometers, which should make it tough for Sky to control.
Froome leads in the overall by 59 seconds over Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and 2:13 minutes on Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). Three-time Vuelta winner Contador sits ninth at 3:13.
“It’s very hard to say what’s going to happen in this Vuelta, as we saw yesterday, anything can happen,” Froome explained. “Tomorrow’s final is very steep and tough. Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali want to make up time in the final. I expect a very aggressive race from them.
“Sunday’s stage is going to be very hard again, up to 2,500 meters at the end of a very tough stage, as well. We are going to see some big time gaps.”
Froome is a four-time Tour de France champion, yet in the Vuelta, he has yet to win. He finished second three times over the last six years. However, he is unfamiliar with many of these Spanish climbs. Team Sky did not have time to preview them as they do ahead of the Tour.
“They are climbs that I’ve not seen before,” Froome said of this weekend. “I have to rely on David Lopez and Mikel Nieve, who have seen them and know what we can expect. Otherwise, I always put my faith in our sports director, Nicolas Portal. He gives us all the info on all the climbs as we approach them on the road and in the mornings in the meetings.
“It’s different when you haven’t seen them and you can’t visual them. It is different in this Vuelta, not like the Tour, I haven’t seen these climbs. It is different, but at the same time, I have faith in the team.”
Sky and Froome are determined to right the wrongs of 2016. Froome built his season around riding the Tour/Vuelta double by coming on form later than normal so that he would have fuel in the tank in the third week of the Vuelta. And the team packs more firepower this year to avoid any sort of Formigal mistake. It has been evident so far, with Sky controlling from stage 3 when Froome took the Vuelta lead.