Vuelta a Espana 2016 preview: can Chris Froome claim a Grand Tour double?

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Vuelta a Espana 2016 preview: can Chris Froome claim a Grand Tour double?

Alberto Contador leads list of contenders as Froome bids to become only third man to win Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in same season

Chris Froome could become only the third rider in cycling history to win both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in the same year, and the first since the Vuelta became the season’s final Grand Tour.

Team Sky’s Tour de France champion, twice a Vuelta runner-up, says he has unfinished business at the Spanish Grand Tour as he joins a strong Sky line-up for the opening team time trial on Saturday (August 20).

Chris Froome and Alberto Contador will go wheel-to-wheel at the Vuelta a Espana again (pic: Sirotti)

Only Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) have previously won both races in the same year, and Froome’s last attempt saw him crash out in Andorra.

But if Froome is to make history, he will have to beat a host of other riders with unfinished business of their own – not least Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who crashed out of the Tour, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who finished third behind Froome in France.

Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), who crashed in the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia, and subsequently lost the race lead on the penultimate stage, is another with a point to prove.

Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange), who finished second at the Giro, will bid to replicate Fabio Aru’s success 12 months ago, meanwhile – the Astana man, who does not race this time out, having followed up his Giro runners-up spot by winning the red jersey.

No rider has completed any form of Grand Tour double since Contador won both the Giro and Vuelta in 2008, so how are Froome’s chances? Let’s take a closer look…

The route

This year’s Vuelta a Espana is focused very much in the north of the country, and features the usual mix of summit finishes and little-known, thigh-numbing climbs.

Starting with a 29.4km team time trial in Galicia, which could leave some riders’ facing an uphill struggle from very early in the race if their teams get it wrong, the race goes on to feature ten summit finishes in all.

The 2016 Vuelta a Espana is focussed mostly on northern Spain and features ten summit finishes (pic: ASO)

There are very few chances for the sprinters – hence none of the big names coming, particularly with the pan-flat Qatar World Championship course on their minds – and indeed the big finishes start as early as stage three.

The Mirador de Ezaro is little more than 1.6km in length but has a gradient of 29 per cent at its steepest – not a day to be out of form.

La Camperona, the summit finish on stage eight, is another climb which ramps up fiercely at its steepest – sections of the 8.3km climb reach a one-in-four gradient.

The stunning backdrop of the Lagos de Covadonga climb concludes stage ten – a 12.2km ascent which has an average gradient of 7.2 per cent but gets much steeper towards the summit.

A brief sojourn across the Franco-Spanish border leads to a summit finish on Tour de France regular the Col d’Aubisque on stage 14, while Formigal returns on stage 15 after Warren Barguil’s victory at the ski station three years ago.

A 37km time trial from Xabia to Calp will suit the likes of Froome if he still has something in the tank come stage 19, while the final climb of this year’s race is the 21km Alto de Aitana (average gradient: 5.9 per cent).

The 2016 Vuelta a Espana finishes, as ever, with a processional stage to Madrid, which will be preceded by the final race of the UCI Women’s World Tour season, the Madrid Challenge.

The contenders

 

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Tour de France champion Chris Froome says he has unfinished business at the Vuelta a Espana, having been runner-up in both 2011 and 2014.

No Brit has ever won the Vuelta – though Robert Millar came close in 1985 when collusion among the Spanish speaking riders saw him lose the race lead on the penultimate day to Pedro Delgado.

Chris Froome has twice been runner-up at the Vuelta a Espana (pic: Sirotti)

But if Froome is to become the first Brit to top the podium in Madrid, it won’t be easy for him; the effects of his Tour de France efforts have already told, when – on the way to the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 time trial – he admitted his body had nothing more to give.

Froome was in unstoppable form at the Tour de France, showing his ability to win – or gain time on his rivals at least – on all different types of terrain.

If he has recharged after the Tour then he stands a good chance – and he’s certainly being backed by one of the strongest teams in the race – but his rivals will sense a chance to gain time in the first week.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)

Alberto Contador abandoned the Tour de France injured, surviving until the end of the first week but struggling throughout as a result of crashes on the first two stages.

But the last time El Pistolero crashed out of the Tour, he roared back to win the Vuelta a Espana, after a great battle with Chris Froome in 2014.

Alberto Contador has won the Vuelta a Espana three times (Pic: Sirotti)

Contador was the form man earlier in the year, with a string of podium finishes, and took an early lead at the Criterium du Dauphine but it all went downhill after that.

Nevertheless, having been convinced by his early season form not to retire at the end of the season, if he can recapture that form he will be the man to beat.

Winning the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month is as good a sign as any that the 33-year-old three-time former winner can.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Nairo Quintana skipped the Rio 2016 Olympic road race after admitting he was suffering through the Tour de France – finishing third but never realistically looking like challenging Chris Froome.

But the Movistar man has had chance to take stock since then, and has more to give than he showed at the Tour de France.

Nairo Quintana was subdued at the Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

Alejandro Valverde – riding his third Grand Tour of the year – and Daniel Moreno are among the men tasked with protecting the Colombian in the mountains, meaning he boasts a typically strong supporting cast.

His chances will depend almost exclusively on whether whatever was holding him back at the Tour – fitness or form – has been fixed.

When he won his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia in 2014, few would have predicted he would be closing the 2016 season still looking for his second – but he had to improve on his Tour performance if he is to avoid that.

Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange)

The last rider to win the Vuelta a Espana, Fabio Aru (Astana), did so having earlier finished second at the Giro d’Italia.

With Aru not taking part this time out, this year’s Giro runner-up – Orica-BikeExchange’s Colombian star Johan Esteban Chaves – will be looking to replicate that feat.

Johan Esteban Chaves led last year’s Vuelta a Espana in the first week, having won two stages (Pic: Sirotti)

Chaves won two stages of last year’s Vuelta, and led the race during the first week, before going on to finish fifth.

Still only 26, he is one of Orica-BikeExchange’s young Grand Tour prospects – Adam Yates has already claimed the Tour de France’s white jersey this year and another prospect, Adam’s twin brother Simon, will join Chaves in Spain.

Chaves’ performances at last year’s Vuelta and this year’s Giro point to a very bright future – and this could be the perfect chance to bag a first Grand Tour win.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)

As is often the case at the Vuelta a Espana, there are a number of riders in last chance saloon as far as their hopes for the season go.

Tejay van Garderen is another of those, after falling well short of expectations at the Tour de France as Richie Porte assumed the team’s Grand Tour leadership.

Tejay van Garderen was in good form at the Tour de Suisse but suffered at the Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

Van Garderen gets his second chance at the Vuelta, and needs to show he has recaptured the form which brought him several top-ten finishes and a couple of stage wins earlier in the season.

The American is perfectly capable of doing that, however – providing his chastening Tour de France is not weighing too heavily on his mind.
Darwin Atapuma and Samuel Sanchez are among those lending their support, and you would back BMC Racing team to deliver in the team time trial too – they are world champions, after all.

Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Steven Kruijswijk should be going into the Vuelta a Espana on the back of his first Grand Tour win, after a superb performance at the Giro d’Italia.

But cycling is a cruel mistress, and with the finish line in sight he not only lost the race lead but also his podium place after a crash on the penultimate descent.

Kruijswijk looked set to win the Giro d’Italia until a crash on stage 19 (pic: Sirotti)

Kruijswijk led by three minutes overall at the time, and would surely have won the pink jersey but for his crash.

At the Rio 2016 road race, the Dutchman looked off the pace – it was only his second day of racing since the Giro – so team-mate Robert Gesink, himself getting back from injury, may be a better bet for LottoNL-Jumbo.

Either way, performances at the Giro d’Italia showed LottoNL-Jumbo can compete at Grand Tour level, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them after that.

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