Strong Vuelta field threatens Froome’s Tour-Vuelta double aspirations

The Briton is aiming to become just the third rider in history to win both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in the same year.

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MADRID (AFP) — Chris Froome (Sky) will face a star-studded field led by Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as he aims to become just the third rider to win the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana in the same year.

Indeed, defending champion Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is the only one of the top five riders from this year’s Tour de France not to take part in the grueling three-week tour around Spain, as former grand tour winners Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Quintana’s teammate Alejandro Valverde are also eyeing victory in Madrid come September 13.

A late surge by Quintana couldn’t prevent Froome from claiming the second Tour de France title of his career last month, and the Briton will be backed by another strong lineup as he attempts to win the Vuelta for the first time after placing second in 2012 and 2014.

Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) are the only riders to have previously won both the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same year.

“I have great memories from this race so I’m pleased to be back. I’ve had a good rest after the Tour and now I’m ready for my next challenge,” said Froome.

“It will certainly be a very competitive race given the strong field — which will be great for the fans to watch. The competition will be tough and this is bike racing so anything can happen, but we have an excellent team and we’re ready to get the race started.”

Movistar’s dual star strategy of including both Quintana and Valverde was criticized during the Tour despite both making the podium, as the former’s relentless attacks on the final two stages couldn’t compensate for the time he lost in the first week.

However, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue defended the decision to once again not name an outright leader of the team.

“They have both had successful seasons and completed their programs without any unforeseen problems,” he said.

“There is always a pressure that exists to do well, but we hope to get to every stage in good condition and they are both preparing for the Vuelta with a lot of excitement.”

Nibali also got stronger as the Tour progressed to finish fourth and went head-to-head with Froome on a couple of occasions, with the Sky man declaring the Italian “unsportsmanlike” for an attack as Froome suffered a mechanical problem.

Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, forms part of what team manager Giuseppe Martinelli has described as the “strongest ever” Astana team that also includes Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, who finished second and third, respectively, in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.

American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) could also figure in the fight for the general classification as he returns after having to withdraw from the Tour de France when lying third in the standings due to an illness.

The race gets underway with a team time trial from Puerto Banus to Marbella on Saturday.

Thereafter, there are eight mountain finishes to favor the better climbers, but a 39-kilometer individual time trial in Burgos in the final week could hold the key to victory.

The final stage will return to its traditional procession around the streets of Madrid after a final stage time trial in Santiago de Compostela last year marked the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s visit to the city.

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