PARIS (Reuters) - The Vuelta is where everything started for Chris Froome and it could well be where he moves closer to the greatest grand tour riders as the Tour de France champion attempts a unique double in the modern era.
Only Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1973) have achieved that feat, but the Spanish race was then held in April-May.
Froome, instead, will have only had 25 days to rest before Saturday’s Grand Depart in Nimes, France, on Saturday.
“I’ve got the opportunity and I’m certainly going to go for it,” Froome said. “The Vuelta is a race I love – it’s vicious but it’s three weeks that I enjoy.”
Froome has had his share of disappointment in the Vuelta, losing by 13 seconds to Spain’s Juan Jose Cobo in 2011, the year he came to prominence, before settling again for second in 2014 and 2016.
Last year, the Team Sky rider effectively lost his chances after being trapped behind following an unexpected attack in a downhill by Alberto Contador, who will take part in his last race before heading into retirement.
The Spaniard, who won the last of his seven grand tour titles at the 2015 Giro d’Italia, is not among the top favorites after finishing ninth overall in the Tour, where Froome prevailed for the fourth time.
He will see some familiar faces in Nimes as Italian Fabio Aru, fellow Briton Simon Yates and Frenchman Romain Bardet — third overall in Paris — also embark on the three-week journey.
The race starts with a team time trial in Nimes and there will only be one solo effort against the clock but Froome should get the chance to gain time on his rivals in the 42-km flat individual time trial - a discipline in which he usually excels.
One of his rivals will be Italian Vincenzo Nibali, while Briton Adam Yates is the only top contender who has not taken part in the Tour de France and should arrive fresher.
“I will be in perfect shape for the Vuelta,” said Nibali, who with Contador is one of six riders with titles in all three grand tours.
Should it be a tight race, it might be decided on the penultimate day at the top of the Angliru mountain road, known as one of the hardest climbs in cycling.
The Vuelta will be without title holder Nairo Quintana as the Colombian is worn out after trying — and failing — to win the Giro/Tour double.
(This version of the story refiles to add dropped words in headline)
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Gareth Jones