When the race starts Froome will be attempting to rack up a historic double by backing up his Tour de France win with victory at the Vuelta, something no one has done since the Spanish race moved to its late-August slot in 1995.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly from his training base in Isola in the Alps, Froome said the Bahrain-Merida rider, who finished third at the Giro, would be a serious threat.
“Not to take anything away from any of my other rivals, but I think Vincenzo Nibali [will be my biggest rival] given his freshness and that things didn’t go as he would have liked in the Giro,” Froome said.
“I imagine his motivation levels will be second to none right now.”
– Read the full interview with Chris Froome in this week’s Cycling Weekly, on sale on Thursday
Last week, Sky performance manager Rod Ellingworth told CW that Sky and Froome’s experience in preparing for the Vuelta following a win at the Tour would give the Brit an advantage over other big names such as Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r), who are doing it for the first time.
When asked how he felt ahead of the Vuelta in comparison to previous years Froome said: “I’d like to think I’m in better shape now than I was last year going into the Vuelta, just given that last year we had the Olympics in Rio between the Tour and the Vuelta and that made training for the Vuelta very difficult.
“But this year I’ve had two solid weeks with my coach Tim Kerrison where we’ve been able to press the reset button and put that out of my mind and really focus on getting ready for the Vuelta.
He added: “Time will tell, it’s always very difficult to tell in training just where you’re at compared to your other rivals. I feel as if I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for the Vuelta.”
Froome, who is often a cautious racer, also said he is prepared to take risks and if that is what it takes to win the Vuelta.
“I’ve finished second three times now at the Vuelta so a fourth wouldn’t mean as much to me as a victory at the Vuelta… Chasing a top five or something doesn’t seem that appealing any more,” he said.
“Hopefully I’m not in that position where I have to try and do some heroic ride. I certainly feel a lot more comfortable when I’m ahead rather than when I’m trying to claw back a deficit.”