Sky leader relishing the challenge of the brutally tough Vuelta a España

Chris Froome (Team Sky) says that we will learn the truth about the favourites and their fitness over the upcoming stages of the Vuelta a España, as the race serves up one summit finish after another in northern Spain.

Froome finished Friday’s seventh stage unscathed, unlike three-time winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who crashed in the final metres. Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing) leads the race; Froome sits third, 34 seconds behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and six seconds ahead of his Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange).

“I think I am where I need to be,” Froome said after a long summer that has included his third Tour de France win and an Olympic bronze medal.

“The truth will come out once we hit the climbs. But so far I am feeling good and I think I had a pretty good start to the race. I am actually looking forward to get into the business side of it. We had a few transfer stages that have been kind of stressful and difficult to get through. It’ll be good to get into the racing side of it again.”

The racing includes the 8.5-kilometre summit finish to La Camperona on Saturday with several sections of 20 per cent gradient and a maximum of 25 per cent. For the Vuelta, which included Mirador de Ézaro and its 30 per cent ramps on day two, it is almost normal.

“That’s the nature of the Vuelta. Every year, it’s the same. That’s what that wall is known for, I guess that’s the characteristic of the Vuelta,” Froome said. “We did that climb back in 2014 . It is tough, tough finish. It is again going to be about getting in a good position and seeing how the legs feel.”

The summit finishes keep coming, too, with one on Sunday, one on Monday and another again on Wednesday, the day after the rest day.

>>> In depth: Vuelta a España route

Froome’s men in black now number only seven as one of his helpers, 2014 road race world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, abandoned the race today with back problems. This morning, Sky’s helpers and Team Principal David Brailsford spent around 15 minutes around him on the turbo trainer looking concerned.

“That was a big blow,” Froome said of Kwiatkowski’s abandon. “He was a big part of the team and had a lot of horsepower, and he was in great shape. It’s a real shame.”