Chris Froome Interview
Last year's Vuelta a Espana saw Team Sky Procycling's Chris Froome produce a stunning breakthrough performance to take second place, finishing the race in Madrid a tantalising 13 seconds away from Vuelta winner Juan Jose Cobo. Along the way he also took a memorable stage victory on Peña Cabarga, one of the most exciting stage finishes in many years.
Joined by teammate Bradley Wiggins on the podium, Froome backed up that performance this July by equalling that second place on the grandest stage of them all - the Tour de France.
Less than a month since Froome stood on the podium on the Champs-Elysees he is preparing himself for yet another three-week Grand Tour.
The Kenyan-born Brit hasn't rested on his laurels since Paris, flying straight to Britain to slot into a five-man GB squad which shouldered the workload in a punishing Olympic Road Race, before going on to win bronze in the time trial.
The 2012 Vuelta a Espana, which starts on August 18, sees Froome come full circle after a magnificent year of results, made even more impressive after the 27-year-old battled back from an early-season illness.
"I've got another hard month of riding and then I can rest up after that," said Froome when we caught up with him during preparations for the Spanish Grand Tour.
"It's been a pretty chaotic summer so far (laughs). First there was all the hype surrounding the build-up to the Tour, then the Tour came along itself and each week brought with it its own challenges. My focus was on getting through the Tour, and then to the end of it. What we did there was a huge achievement for the team, and then to carry straight on to the Olympics after that made it an epic summer.
"It wasn't easy to retain my focus after the Tour because when you get to the end of something like that, it's the end of one block - one period. Obviously for us though, we had to extend our focus until after the Olympic time trial. I took a few days off after that and I've just started training again this week to get myself ready for the Vuelta."
With a mountainous route and an incredibly strong squad behind him, Froome admits that the Vuelta has always been a target and is ready to take on the tough prospect of back-to-back Grand Tours.
"It's been my plan to ride the Vuelta since the beginning of the year and definitely a race I wanted to revisit after my achievements there last year," he continued. "A lot of people might have thought that with the Tour we had that would change, but I've always remained committed to the plan and I really want to ride two Grand Tours back to back. I've never done that before so I'd like to see how I cope with that.
"I'll be going there as our leader but that's not to say we don't have other guys who can be right up there on the GC. Rigoberto and Sergio were both top 10 in the Giro and they both have huge potential. I have no doubt at all that they'll be ready to go in the Vuelta. Richie Porte is another. He came through the Tour with me and has an amazing base to go through the Vuelta. He's super strong on the TT's and the climbs and could be right up there as well. Potentially we have a really strong team. A lot of people see the Vuelta as being inferior to the Tour but the team we are sending there is definitely not a second-rate team.
"With so many uphill finishes it's bound to be a really challenging race and there's going to be no hiding if the form isn't there. It should be a really exciting race."
For fans the Vuelta sets up the mouth-watering prospect of a battle in the mountains between some of best climbers in the sport. Froome proved his strength at the Tour, but will face off against a new set of rivals in Spain.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was second at the Giro d'Italia, defending champion Cobo (Movistar) returns, as does Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) following his ban.
On the returning Contador, Froome revealed: "Alberto has a lot to prove after coming back from his ban and I have no doubt that being on home turf in Spain, he'll be up for the job. I'm not too sure quite where he is with his condition but he'll no doubt be right up there at the sharp end of the racing and I think he'll be going in as the favourite to win the Vuelta.
"I haven't really taken on much pressure to be honest. I'm going there as the leader for Team Sky but that doesn't change anything - I'm still preparing for it the same way I would any other race. I'm going to do the best job I can and do whatever's required of me from the team. If that's to try and win stages or the GC, then I'll try to do that, but if any of the other guys come to the fore and show that they're in a better place to win it then I'll happily work for them.
"The schedule does make it harder because I've not had the time to tailor my training specifically for the Vuelta. I've also had to train for the Olympic road race and time trial, so I'm not going into it the same way as I did the Tour but I'm confident, still very motivated, and eager to lead the team for the first time. It's a fantastic position for me to be in and I want to make the most of it."
And on returning to Spain Froome added: "I have so many happy memories from last year's race. The big things that stand out are the surprise I felt by going into the red jersey after the time trial - that was quite a surreal experience for me to be leading a Grand Tour. That's when I got the green light to really go for it and winning stage 17 was a big moment for me, and a big moment for the team."