• Will the sun shine on Chris Froome today? (AFP)Source: AFP
With two days remaining the most exciting Grand Tour of the year just got a whole lot better, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
10 Sep 2016 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 10 Sep 2016 - 4:25 PM

The champion of the Tour de France also wants to be the winner of the Vuelta a España. This year.

Chris Froome, after smashing the individual time trial, is back in it. In it to win it.

He will not give a toss about preserving his second place. He has done that twice before at the Vuelta, in 2011 (to Juan Jose Cobo) and 2014 (to Alberto Contador). When you have his insatiable appetite for winning, coming second thrice is not cool.

"In other words, on a climb that averages just 5.9 percent, the 31-year-old needs to make up 3.86 seconds a kilometre. That's assuming he attacks from the bottom."

He will not give a toss that he does not have the strongest unit - that, of course, is Movistar, outfit of race leader Nairo Quintana - because he will ride tonight's stage to the 1,510 metre-high categoría especial Alto de Aitana offensively, where having numbers is less important. He will use his domestiques like bullets in a six shooter; and can work off teams like Tinkoff (surely, Contador doesn't give a rat's about finishing third, either) and Orica-BikeExchange, who are 1'11 away from the podium with Esteban Chaves. Though it seems that Tinkoff is intending to work off Sky: "It will be all or nothing for them and we'll see whether we can take advantage of that," said Contador, adding that whatever happens, "I will try something on the Alto de Aitana."

The team of maillot rojo Quintana, meanwhile, must decide who they will follow. If they mark only Sky then it is possible that, as happened to Froome and Contador on the final stage of the 2014 Criterium du Dauphiné when Andrew Talanksy (currently fifth overall, 7'12 off the lead) stole victory from under their feet, Contador or Chaves could win. "There could be lots of different scenarios on the road, and we will have to make the right decisions about which moves to follow. It could be a very tactical race," Froome said Friday.

He will not give a toss that it has been a long season, and that his form is not what it was at the Tour de France where he barely raised a sweat. After a fortnight riding conservatively, and a head-kicking on the stage to Formigal, his win Friday proved he's not far off his July best. "This is my last race of the year," he said. "Nairo has more than one minute's advantage. He will be very difficult to beat, but I will keep fighting all the way."

Translation: I have already won the Tour this year; I have nothing to lose.

There are four climbs to be traversed before the Alto de Aitana (the stage contains 4,200 metres' vertical gain) so opportunities abound beforehand, "but given it's the last stage before Madrid," said Froome, "there's a good chance there will be a fight between the GC contenders there." If it does come down to the final climb then he has 21 kilometres to reverse his one minute and 21 second deficit. In other words, on a climb that averages just 5.9 percent, the 31-year-old needs to make up 3.86 seconds a kilometre. That's assuming he attacks from the bottom. If he waits till the final seven kilometres when the gradient pitches up to eight percent? 11.6 seconds a kilometre. Their sports science boffin Tim Kerrison has no doubt crunched the numbers but it would seem the best option would be to go long (as in way before the climb to Aitana) and go hard.

Either way, against Quintana, one of the world's best climbers who so far has shown no weakness when the road veers skywards, it is a daunting, many would say unlikely, proposition. Unlikely, but nevertheless possible.

Who will win Stage 20 of the Vuelta?
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