Rider of the week
February brought another much anticipated duel between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, which saw the Briton draw first blood of the season and win the 61th Ruta del Sol, where he returned four years after finishing 50th. Having some questions about his form, the 2013 Tour de France champion had a pretty good start in the short ITT, but cracked a couple of days later on the mountain top finish to Alto de Hazallanas, where Contador attacked with more than seven kilometers before the finish, gaining an 18 seconds advantage over his rival (for a total of 27 seconds in the GC), which put him in contention for the overall triumph. For many, it was a déjà-vu episode, similar to what happened last year in the Vuelta a España, where the Tinkoff-Saxo rider won two stages, leaving his rival each time in the dust.
Some considered the race to be already over, but not Froome, who landed one huge blow in the last mountain stage, attacking Contador with two kilometers left from the Alto de Allanadas. That gruelling climb, combined with the Brit’s fierce pace – which was reminiscent of his attacks in the 2013 season – was enough to give Sky’s leader the stage win and the GC victory, with a mere two-second lead over his arch-rival, who had a hard time pacing himself until the end of Allanadas. Besides Froome’s drive on the climb, another important factor was the Sky – Tinkoff-Saxo duel, won by the British squad, which was more powerful than Contador’s and made sure of supporting Froome until the key moment of the race.
It was for the third year in a row that Chris Froome won his opening race of the season, after back-to-back victories in the Tour of Oman, which he skipped now in favor of the Ruta del Sol. Kicking his year with yet another win, as well as a convincing display on the mountains will sure boost the 29-year-old’s confidence before his future goals. After the success he has had in Spain, Froome now lies in 6th place in an all-time list of British pro winners, with 23 victories, ahead of such riders as Barry Hoban, Robert Millar and Sean Yates.
Speaking of stats, Chris Froome now leads Alberto Contador 5-4 in stage races in which they both finished, and this only makes their next appointment – Tirreno-Adriatico, in March – even more exciting. There, on Italian soil and on the long and difficult climb of Monte Terminillo (21 km, 6,6% average gradient), Contador and Froome will battle for the 50th edition of the “Race of the Two Seas”, which will mark another episode of one of the best rivalries cycling has seen over the last years.