NIMES, France (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) strode into the 1st century Roman arena Friday afternoon not quite looking like a conquering gladiator. A modern-day bike racer is too skinny for that.
But what he said about his ambitions should put the chill into his rivals going into Saturday’s start of the 2017 Vuelta a España.
“I think my team’s probably the strongest team we’ve ever put on the start line at the Vuelta,” Froome said. “There is feeling of purpose on the team, more than previously.”
Don’t expect another “Froomigal” in this year’s Vuelta. To protect Froome from unexpected surprises, Team Sky has brought what Froome considers his best Vuelta team ever.
This year, Froome boasts a Tour-level squad to the Vuelta to prevent history from repeating itself. “Fortress Froome” is packed with a strong mix of climbers — Wout Poels, Mikel Nieve, David Lopez and Diego Rosa — and rouleurs — Ian Stannard, Christian Knees, Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio — to keep Froome protected in the hills and on the flats.
“We’ve been able to pull together guys who have been able to especially prepare for the Vuelta,” Froome said. “We have an all-round really well-balanced and really strong team.”
Froome, 32, doesn’t want to finish second again at the Spanish grand tour. After three second places in five Vuelta starts, he finally wants to knock off the title.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an obsession. It’s a race I really enjoy doing,” Froome continued. “It’s really difficult after the Tour de France to get back to the top condition, but it’s a challenge I enjoy. This year, in particular, I’ve had the opportunity to really focus on being ready for the Vuelta. I hadn’t had the Olympics like I did last year, so that’s given me a good period to refocus.”
The four-time Tour winner admitted it won’t be easy. This year’s Vuelta boasts perhaps its best ever starting field. Though a few have indicated they won’t be racing for GC, the level is high. He singled out Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Orica-Scott as his most dangerous rivals.
“Even though we don’t have Nairo [Quintana] here, we have a lot of really strong riders,” Froome said. “It’s about 21 days of racing, and with nine summit finishes. But having said that, the time trial I am really looking forward to. 40km, a lot of time can be won or lost there. Angliru is also a massive stage.”
Froome also had words of respect for Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), who retires at the end of this Vuelta.
“Alberto has been one of my biggest rivals and he has a certain flare and aggressive racing style. That certainly animates the race a lot more, and that is going to be missed,” Froome said.
“It will be interesting to see how he races his last grand tour,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in his nature to go out with a bit of a procession, and I am sure he will be doing everything he can to try to win.”
Froome certainly won’t want to get caught out in another Contador trap. Last year’s Quintana victory was in part due to the trap Contador set on the stage to Formigal.
“I think Nairo probably owes him one,” Froome said.
There are no favors in cycling. And that’s just how the gladiators would have played it.