Madrid - Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome begins
his quest to make more cycling history on Saturday by ending a long and arduous
wait to win the Vuelta a Espana.
Froome faces a huge challenge over three weeks of brutal
climbs in the searing Spanish summer heat with a stellar cast of former Grand
Tour winners such as Alberto Contador in his final race, Vincenzo Nibali and
Fabio Aru competing for the red jersey.
However, should the Briton emerge victorious when the race
enters Madrid on September 10, he would become just the third man ever to win
the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same year after Frenchman Jacques Anquetil
(1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978).
Froome has come agonisingly close to winning in Spain in the
past, finishing second on three occasions in 2011, 2014 and 2016.
"It certainly feels as if I've got unfinished business
at the Vuelta a Espana," said Froome.
"It's a relentless race, the course is always a lot
more mountainous than the Tour de France, the conditions are tougher being
mid-August in Spain."
Nine summit finishes lie in wait for the peloton, including
a 12.2km climb up Alto de l'Angliru in the penultimate stage to ensure an
There is just one individual time trial, but the long and
flat 42km circuit on stage 16 should allow Froome to take time off his rivals.
"It's brutal, absolutely brutal, and to win something
like that it feels as if you're taking on an even bigger challenge," added
"It's certainly not easy to go straight from the Tour
and to shift the mind-set to suddenly getting ready for another Grand Tour,
another three-week race, just a few weeks on from the Tour de France."
Contador will be the home favourite as he aims to end an illustrious
career in fairy-tale fashion by matching Roberto Heras's record of four Vuelta
The 34-year-old announced earlier this month the Vuelta
would be his final race after a disappointing Tour de France in which he
finished ninth and nearly nine minutes back on Froome.
"I don't think there is a better farewell than in my
home race in my own country," said Contador, who is tied for fourth as the
most successful Grand Tour rider of all-time with seven wins in total.
"I'm sure these will be three wonderful weeks."
Two Italian former Vuelta winners pose the biggest threat to
Froome and Contador as Nibali and Aru lead Bahrain-Merida and Astana
Nibali should be fresher than his rivals after sitting out the
Tour de France following his third-place finish on home soil at the Giro
"The route is very demanding but overall I like
it," said Nibali.
"So many climbs, but also Navarra Circuit's time trial
with more of 40 kilometres can be decisive."
Aru finished fifth at the Tour de France even taking the
yellow jersey from Froome for a couple of days despite losing a number of team-mates
early in the race.
"It'll be the hardest Grand Tour of 2017," said
the 2015 champion, who is also riding with his future in mind with UAE Team
Emirates interested in snatching him away from Astana.
Romain Bardet also goes for his first Grand Tour win after
finishing on the podium at the Tour de France in each of the last two years.
However, former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez is out after
being suspended by the UCI for failing a doping test on Thursday.