Chris Froome is going in search of history on Saturday as he looks to become the first rider to win the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in the same season since 1978.
Only two men in history have ever achieved the feat, and none since the race was extended to three weeks and moved to its current place in the calendar, back in 1995.
The four-time Tour de France champion has been a runner up at La Vuelta three times, including in 2016, and made his Grand Tour breakthrough at the race in 2011, when he finished behind home favourite Juan Jose Cobo having briefly held the leader’s red jersey earlier in the race.
Froome will have a strong team supporting him in Spain, with Wout Poels and Ian Stannard making their return to a Grand Tour team having missed out on the Tour de France roster.
They will be joined by Mikel Nieve, Diego Rosa, David Lopez, Gianni Moscon, Salvatore Puccio and Christian Knees – with Froome branding it as the strongest team Sky have ever sent to La Vuelta.
“It certainly feels as if I’ve got unfinished business with this race,” said the 32-year-old. “I’ve finished second three times now, but I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Vuelta.
“It feels like we’re on much more of a mission this year, and aiming for the Tour/Vuelta double this season has been a huge motivation.
“I don’t think we’ve been to the Vuelta a Espana with a team as strong as we’ve got this year.”
Beginning in the French city of Nimes on Saturday, the three-week race is renowned for playing host to some of the most aggressive racing of the season.
And with Esteban Chaves, Rafael Majka, Fabio Aru, Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet, Ilnur Zakarin and Alberto Contador all on the startlist, he is sure to face stiff competition to be wearing the red jersey in Madrid next month.
With only six of the 21 stages classified as flat – La Vuelta will, as always, be a true test of riders’ climbing ability – and Froome cannot wait.
“It’s a race I love doing, but it’s relentless,” he added. “The course is always a lot more mountainous than the Tour de France and the conditions are tougher.
“Being mid-August in Spain, it’s quite common to have temperatures up in the mid 40s. It’s absolutely brutal.
“One thing that really sets the Vuelta apart from other races is where it is in the season. You have this mixture of riders who have targeted the Vuelta specifically, and others who are coming off a big season already.
“Typically, it’s a very aggressive race and a very punchy style of racing, which always makes for great viewing for the fans.”
Also riding in Spain will be Froome and Stannard’s fellow Brits Adam and Simon Yates, who will both have hopes of high overall finishes for Orica-Scott, while Adam Blythe and Mark Christian will be riding for Aqua Blue Sport.