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The peloton has already turned the page on the 2015 season, and all eyes are on new and bigger prizes, but Team Sky enters the winter with a hint of regret.
After winning his second Tour de France yellow jersey in July, Chris Froome dove straight into the Vuelta a España, hoping to become the first rider to win both grand tours in that order. And if you believe what those close to him say, Froome could very well have won the Spanish tour as well.
“Chris believed he was going to win the Vuelta,” said Sky sport director Dario Cioni. “He had a bit of a slow start, but he was really starting to feel good. On the morning of Andorra, he told the guys on the bus he was feeling good, and that he was riding to win the stage and take the jersey.”
That “morning in Andorra” changed everything for Froome’s Vuelta ambitions. He was knocked into a wooden barrier just 3km into the stage, and after being banged up, he ceded more than eight minutes. He later abandoned with a fractured toe in his right foot.
“Chris was poised to win the Vuelta, but someone knocked him off his bike, and he crashed,” Cioni said. “We will never know, but I think Chris would have the Vuelta.”
Froome has since recovered from his injury, and is preparing for the upcoming season. For 2016, Froome is putting his focus on a third Tour victory — trying to become the first rider to officially defend the yellow jersey since Miguel Indurain in the 1990s — with the added bonus of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. With such an ambitious schedule, it remains to be seen if he will race the 2016 Vuelta. Froome confirmed he will debut at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia in February, and trace a traditional path to the Tour: Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, then the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Froome, however, likes the Vuelta, not only as a race but also as a way to ride into the off-season with a solid fitness base. Since his breakout performance in the 2011 Vuelta, when he rode to second overall and confirmed his grand tour chops, Froome has raced the Vuelta every year, except in 2013.
“Riding the Vuelta helps you a lot going into the next season,” Cioni said. “If you end your season at the Tour [de France], you have a big drop off, and you really have to train hard in the off-season to regain that level.”
With most of the top GC stars already mapping out their 2016 seasons, only Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has confirmed he will race the Vuelta. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) seem to be putting their focus on the Tour, the Giro d’Italia, and the Olympics.
The Vuelta, however, is a catch-all event for riders looking to make up for early-season disappointments or injuries, and often sees a flurry of late additions. That’s what happened in 2015, when Froome, Quintana, Nibali, and Valverde all toed the line. What’s sure for Cioni is that Froome wants to add a Vuelta title to his career palmares, sooner or later.
“Chris came to the Vuelta to win,” Cioni continued. “It didn’t turn out like that, but it’s a race he likes, and a race he wants to win before his career is over.”