Chris Froome returns to action at the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday, aiming to make up for his Tour de France disappointment with a strong showing in the final Grand Tour of the season.
The Brit’s Tour de France defence was cruelly cut short by several crashes which forced him to abandon on stage five, but Froome can end 2014 on a high with an impressive display at the Tour of Spain, the race where he announced himself as a three-week race contender in 2011.
Froome, who finished runner-up at the Vuelta three years ago and fourth in 2012, enters the race surrounded by a strong team.
From Mikel Nieve – who has finished in the top 10 twice – to British champion Peter Kennaugh, Team Sky have selected a combination of experience, climbing talent and strong men to guide their leader through the 21 days of racing.
Here, directeur sportif Dario Cioni outlines the roles of the eight riders supporting Froome and what duties they will be performing during the race.
Mikel Nieve, Spain
Mikel Nieve is going to be what Richie Porte was to Chris in the Tour. He’s the guy who’s going to be really close to Chris. If Chris is good in the mountains and wants to go on the attack, Mikel will set the tempo before Chris attacks or if someone dangerous goes up the road, Mikel will be the guy who helps Chris bring the guy back. He will also be the GC back-up. There might be the chance he has the opportunity to look for a stage win himself in the high mountains, as well.
Pete Kennaugh, Britain
Pete Kennaugh has been riding really well recently, winning the Tour of Austria and British national road race. This is a really good opportunity for Pete and he should be proud to be wearing the British champion’s jersey in a race like this. He’ll be one of the key men for Chris throughout the race. He’s very versatile so he goes really good on the flatter stages, especially if there’s some wind, he’ll be good in the team time trial and we’re looking at him to perform in the high mountains, too.
Luke Rowe, Britain
Luke is really important in the first week. Whenever there’s wind it will be Luke’s job to look after Chris. He will also be in charge of looking after Chris in the flatter parts of the stages and to guide him in the sprint finishes. He’ll help Chris to be well positioned and stay out of trouble.
Philip Deignan, Ireland
Philip is a good climber and he will be important in the high mountains. Along with Kennaugh and Nieve, he’ll be up there with Chris on the first-category climbs, special-category climbs and final climbs of the day. He finished in ninth at the Vuelta in 2009, so knows what this race is about.
Vasil Kiryienka, Belarus
It’s always good to have Kiryienka around! He’s very strong in the team time trial and always makes a massive contribution in that discipline. He can ride on the flat for long periods and he can also ride in the mountains; he will be that middle to high-mountain rider. He won a Vuelta mountain stage to Pena Cabarga from a breakaway last year.
Kanstantsin Siutsou, Belarus
Siutsou came third in the time trial world championships last season and, along with Cataldo and Kiryienka, will power the team time trial. All three of them can climb well, too, so they can stay with Chris up to the last climb. If needed, he can also contribute well on the flat. He’s also won a stage at the Giro.
Christian Knees, Germany
Christian will be our road captain. He will make the calls on the road, if the riders lose contact with the team car or if something happens suddenly, he has the experience to react and will make sure the guys are well positioned within the peloton. He’s been riding really, really well lately and we expect him to have a good Vuelta and be important for the team. He’ll work with Luke Rowe on the flatter stages and finishes to make sure Chris is well protected.
Dario Cataldo, Italy
Dario is a strong time trialist, a good climber – as he showed when he won a Vuelta stage in 2012 up to Cuitu Negru – and we expect him to make a contribution in the team time trial. He could also maybe have a go himself during the individual time trial. He could be up there at least until the last climb to help Chris as well.
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