CYCLING HEAVYWEIGHTS SQUARE UP | Contador V Froome
The final grand tour of the year, the Vuelta, kicks off today in Pamplona and offers perhaps the most tantalising GC battle of the year. Alberto Contador, the darling of Spanish, cycling returns to the big stage after his drugs ban and finds in front of him Chris Froome, a man who has blitzkrieged his way to the top of the sport. It’s a battle to savour.
Froome came to prominence at last year’s Vuelta, finishing second, and just 13 seconds behind the winner, Spain’s Juan Jose Cobo. It was the fact that he beat team leader Bradley Wiggins that surprised so many. In fact he could have won it had team tactics allowed.
Fast forward the best part of a year, and Froome has further proven his GC pedigree with a superb second place at the Tour de France - a race in which he was widely accepted as the strongest rider. Talk of discontent within the Sky camp was rife, but if ever there was any frustration on Froome’s part, this Spanish stage gives him opportunity to win a Grand Tour at last and put some demons to rest.
It’s a punishingly hard course which looks tailor made for Contador, but without the conditioning big racing brings there will be questions marks over his race fitness, a view shared by Froome, who told teamsky.com “Alberto has a lot to prove after coming back from his ban and I have no doubt that being on home turf in Spain, he’ll be up for the job. I’m not too sure quite where he is with his condition but he’ll no doubt be right up there at the sharp end of the racing and I think he’ll be going in as the favourite to win the Vuelta.”
With this year’s Vuelta being big on uphill finishes, Froome must secretly fancy the task ahead - especially with a quality team which includes Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao to help him in the mountain’s. And with the shackless off, he will be free to race how he wants with no Team Leader to look out for. It could get very interesting.
Contador has the home advantage, and has extensively previewed the course - a luxury not afforded to Froome who has been too busy with the Tour and Olympics. Instead Frome must rely on Spanish team mates Xabier Zandio and Juan Antonio Flecha to provide local advice
Defending champion Juan Jose Cobo is not said to be in good form after a wisdom tooth problem took him out of action for 10 days, although he may be trying to deflect media attention away from himself. But if that is the case Contador V Froome may well just make for the most exciting Grand Tour of the year.
La Vuelta - The numbers
18th August - Start
36 rated climbs,
11 flat stages,
10 uphill finishes
6 major mountaintop finishes
1 Team Time Trial at 16.5km
1 Individual Time Trial at 39.4km.
28% steepest gradient
9th September - Finish
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