Britain’s Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome is ready to step into the spotlight and lead Team Sky for the first time during the Vuelta a Espana, which starts in Pamplona today.
The 27-year-old supported eventual winner Bradley Wiggins in the Tour last month, but the British Olympic time trial champion is not riding in Spain.
“It’s new for me to be a leader, but at the end of the day, it’s the same job as ever, you’ve still got to pedal,” Froome told reporters on Thursday. “I may be more in the limelight now, but I believe I’ve got the team and the ability to carry this through.”
Asked if the Vuelta represented his big chance with no Wiggins present, Froome, who was second last year, replied: “It’s definitely a great opportunity for me, and I’ll do my part. I know the rest of the team is in great shape. We’ve got several riders who could be in the top 10 overall in Madrid.”
One of Froome’s main contenders in Spain will be home favorite Alberto Contador, who returned from a doping ban earlier this month.
Contador won the 2010 Tour de France, but was stripped of the title after testing positive for the anabolic agent clenbuterol. The 29-year-old finished fourth on his competitive return in the Eneco Tour in the Netherlands.
“I’m not afraid of him, but then I’m sure he’s not afraid of me, either. We’ve both got a job to do and that’s it,” Froome said. “I can’t say what will happen. I’ve never raced against him. I’m sure he’s in perfect physical condition, and he’ll be very motivated after his suspension. And he’s racing on home terrain, too, so that’ll be more motivation.”
The opening team time trial partly takes place down streets used in Pamplona’s famous “bull-runs,” an activity Froome said he would like to try sometime, but for now the Kenyan-born rider was more interested in what he could achieve on two wheels in the Navarran capital.
“The opening time trial will be very technically challenging and we’ll try for the best result possible,” he said. “Overall the Vuelta is a very different race to the Tour, especially with the amount of climbing it has it should be conducive to a lot more explosive style of riding, with a lot more attacking.”
Froome won bronze in the men’s Olympic time trial after his second-place finish in the Tour but said his busy season meant he was still in good shape.
“Mentally I’m a little bit tired, but physically I’m feeling really good. I did some really good training between the Tour and the Olympics and had a couple of days off after the Olympics to rest up and then was back into training again. For sure the race fitness is still there,” Froome said.
“It wasn’t just get to Paris [in the Tour] and then let go. The Olympics were always a goal for me, right back to the start of the season,” he said. “But they’re like a stepping stone for the Vuelta, too they’ve kept me racing and on the ball. Now I’m ready to go again.”
The Vuelta finishes in Madrid on Sept. 9.