He’s the rider who heads into the race as the most closely watched of the general classification contenders, but Chris Froome has downplayed his chances the day before the start of the Vuelta a España.
Winner of the Tour de France in 2013 and again last month, Froome also has second place finishes to his name in the 2011 and 2014 editions of the Vuelta. However he has tried to shrug off the favourite tag prior to the start.
“I’m feeling good, but while I’ve recovered from the Tour, I’m not going into the Vuelta in the same kind of form,” he told TeamSky.com on Friday.
“I think that’s understandable given that the Tour was my main objective of the season, and my sole target for the whole year before it. I’ll be riding this race on the back of the form I had there.”
Since that race Froome has ridden criteriums as his only races, meaning that he hasn’t had the same build-up as some of the other contenders. Still, given his past Grand Tour performances, they will likely take his words with a pinch of salt.
He insists that things have not been ideal. “The feelings I had during that block [of pre-race training – ed.] were really different to the ones I’d experienced before the Tour.
“I went so deep during the last week of that race, it definitely took a lot out of me, so I’ve been trying to recover more than anything since then.”
Froome opened a commanding lead in the Tour but faded somewhat in the final week. He ended the race one minute 12 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana. The latter took one minute 58 seconds out of him on the final two climbing stages, and many feel he might have won had there been another day in the high mountains.
“I’d love to be up there with the best guys in the race, but I have to be honest with myself and know that’s going to be really difficult to do,” Froome said.
“That’s purely down to the Tour that I had, and how hard I had to push myself there. That said, I’m going to try my absolute hardest and go for the best result possible.
“We’ve got a really strong team here with Sergio [Henao] and Mikel [Nieve] riding amazingly well in the climbs, so if things don’t work out for me I’m more than happy to step in and do a domestique role for someone else.”
Still, even though he’s raised doubts about his form, many will wait and see before accepting his assessment of his condition.
For example, Alberto Contador tends to downplay his chances prior to major targets, using it as a tactic to remove some of the pressure on himself and his team.
The Spaniard is not competing in the race this time around, but there remains a possibility that Froome is adopting the same tactic.
Whether or not that is the case, he points out that others will be fresher.
“It’s a super strong field, and there are plenty of good riders who rode the Tour like I did,” he said. “Some of those guys will be in the same boat as me condition-wise, but then there’s others like Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru who’ll be in a lot better shape.
“They skipped the Tour to ride the Giro earlier in the year, and then you’ve got Tejay van Garderen as well who had more time to recover after dropping out of the Tour early through illness. All that means it’s going to be a really competitive race.”
If things do work out in the ideal way for Froome, he will make history in joining just two other riders as winners of the Tour and Vuelta in the same year. That gives him additional motivation and ensures that he’ll do what he can to finally take the red jersey to Madrid.
“It’d be a massive achievement,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here, and to my knowledge, only Jacques Anquetil and Bernhard Hinault have ever actually done it.
“Thinking about adding my name to that list will help me get through the race as well as I can.”