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The team has already taken one Grand Tour this year, namely Nairo Quintana’s Giro d’Italia win, and also clocked up a fourth place finish in the Tour de France via Alejandro Valverde. Sights have turned to the upcoming Vuelta a España and, according to directeur sportif José Luis Arrieta, both riders are at the level of form necessary to chase overall victory.
“Looking at the start list, the Vuelta is the number one Grand Tour this year,” he said. “We’ve got two riders for winning, but we know that Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has been preparing for this race for weeks. Astana looks very motivated with Aru. Team Sky needs to make up for the difficult time they’ve had.
“It won’t be easy for us but we’re confident. Quintana resumed racing this week at the Vuelta a Burgos and he already looks strong while Valverde has chosen to not race between the Clasica San Sebastian he won and the start of the Vuelta.”
The Spanish Grand Tour has an extremely impressive lineup, with 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky), past world number one Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2011 Tour victor Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and this year’s Tour podium finisher Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) all slated to take part.
Others who could fight for the final victory include 2013 double stage victor Warren Barguill (Giant Shimano), Critérium du Dauphiné champion Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp), climbing specialists Mikel Nieve (Sky), Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing Team), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Fabio Aru (Astana), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) and Robert Gesink (Belkin Pro Cycling Team).
Double Vuelta winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) also confirmed his participation in recent days, although he claims his expectations are limited to a stage victory in the final week.
Arrieta is clear on the importance of the race for the Spanish WorldTour team. “Every year, the Vuelta is the most important Grand Tour for us, along with the Tour de France,” he explained. “Therefore we try to line up riders who are still fresh even though the season is long. So we’ve combined riders who have taken a rest after winning the Giro with Nairo and others who are still strong after the Tour de France.
“I believe we have a very nice team with our two captains but also Igor Anton, Adriano Malori, Jose Herrada, Gorka Izagirre, Jonathan Castroviejo and Imanol Erviti.”
The race begins with a 12.6 kilometre team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera on August 23. Arrieta believes victory is possible but gaining time on as many other teams as possible is crucial; at the very least, not giving up time to rivals is key.