Chris Froome makes his 2016 European debut next week in Spain, and guess what? He’s racing to win.
The two-time Tour de France champion has some unsettled business with the Volta a Catalunya (March 21-27). In four career starts, he’s never won or reached the podium in the week-long WorldTour event. With Froome arriving to the Catalunya race in good health, Sky is bringing a team to win.
“He will focus to win the race,” Sky sport director Nicolas Portal told VeloNews. “It will be a good week in Catalunya, with a good group around him.”
The 30-year-old has raced Catalunya four times. In his first two attempts, in 2010 and 2011, he was emerging as a stage racer and finished 71st and 61st, respectively. He returned in 2014, riding to sixth overall despite a back injury. Last year, he fell ill and lost 28 minutes in the first key mountain stage, eventually finishing 71st again.
After training in South Africa for the past three weeks, Portal said a healthy and fit Froome is motivated to race for the first time since winning the Herald Sun Tour in his season debut in February in Australia.
“He’s been training well in South Africa, and this is his first race since Australia, so he is motivated,” Portal said. “Our plan is to have the guys who race ready to race to win. When you are selected on this team, it is because you are in good condition.”
Sky will bring a strong team to back Froome, comprised of Paris-Nice winner Geraint Thomas, Ian Boswell, Leopold König, Wout Poels, Nicolas Roche, Mikel Nieve, and Vasil Kiryienka.
Portal also confirmed Froome will not race Liège-Bastogne-Liège, saying it’s too close to the start of the Tour de Romandie, another one of Froome’s big early-season goals ahead of the 2016 Tour de France.
“In his heart, he would like to have a strong Liège. He is a proper GC rider, and with Romandie right after, he will be at a training camp,” Portal said. “Some day he will properly focus on Liège. It’s a race he loves.”
Last year’s Volta was hyped as a showdown between Froome and Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador. Both are back, but the week-long Catalunya tour will see a star-studded field that is arguably the best GC field of the entire season, with a mix of riders targeting both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
In addition to Froome and Contador, the field includes Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Fabio Aru (Astana), Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), Robert Gesink (LottoNL – Jumbo), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), Daniel Martin (Etixx – Quick-Step), and defending champion Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen, racing together for the first time this season on BMC Racing. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) are the only major GC stars not racing.
The course features a mix of hilly terrain and sprint-friendly finales, with back-to-back summit finishes in stages 3 and 4 that should set up the GC. Without time trials, time bonuses often prove decisive in what’s usually an explosive, tightly packed GC battle.