BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — After winning the Tour de France for a fourth time, Chris Froome will try to break his run of second-place finishes at the Spanish Vuelta.
Froome has finished the Vuelta as runner-up on three occasions, coming in behind Juanjo Cobo in 2011, Alberto Contador in 2014 and Nairo Quintana last year.
With Quintana opting not to defend his title, Froome is an even greater favorite to finally ride triumphantly into Madrid on Sept. 10. The three-week race starts Saturday with a team time trial in the French city of Nimes.
The 32-year-old Froome is aiming to become the third rider to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season. Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) are the only riders to win both grand tours in the same season, and they did so when the Vuelta was still held in the spring.
"It certainly feels as if I've got unfinished business with this race. I've finished second three times now, but I've got a good feeling about this year's Vuelta," Froome said. "It feels like we're on much more of a mission this year, and aiming for the Tour-Vuelta double this season has been a huge motivation."
Froome's team director said that this year is perfect for his star rider to get his first grand tour win other than the Tour de France.
"I believe this Vuelta can be a defining moment for Team Sky and for Chris Froome," Sky team director Dave Brailsford said. "This year Chris has the chance to write history alongside them and cement his place as one of the all-time greats of the sport."
Here are some more things to know about this year's Spanish Vuelta:
CONTADOR'S SWAN SONG
Alberto Contador, one of cycling's top talents for the past decade, will retire after the Vuelta.
The 34-year-old Contador announced on Aug. 7 that he would put an end to his successful career after riding his home race for a final time.
The organizers decided to honor Contador, a three-time Vuelta winner, by giving him the No. 1 shirt.
Second only to the great Miguel Indurain in Spanish cycling lore, Contador has accumulated seven grand tour titles. He won the Vuelta in 2008, 2012 and 2014, in addition to twice winning both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. Only five other riders have ever won the three races.
But his reputation was severely tarnished when he was stripped of a third Tour title from 2010 for doping.
Riding for Trek-Segafredo this season, he finished the Tour in ninth place.
Known for making surprise attacks at any stage of a race, Contador will be motivated to give his Spanish fans one last show.
Beside Contador, Froome's main rivals are a mix of former winners and younger riders poised to pounce if he slips up.
Vincenzo Nibali won the 2010 Vuelta and finished the 2013 edition in second. He has also won one Tour and the Giro twice. The Italian did not ride this year's Tour after finishing the Giro in third place.
Fabio Aru, the 2015 Vuelta winner, will also be back, while Romain Bardet, third at the Tour, could be poised to make a run as well.
The Orica-Scott team will bring three riders to keep an eye on. Esteban Chaves was third in last year's Vuelta, while brothers Simon and Adam Yates are strong riders.
Otherwise, the field is missing some potential challengers, including Quintana, his injured Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde, and 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin.
The 72nd edition of the Vuelta will start on foreign soil for only the third time. The race's opening two stages will be in France before a third stage takes riders over the Pyrenees into Spain before finishing in mountainous Andorra.
The Vuelta has stayed true to its reputation as a race for mountain lovers. Or, as Froome said, it's going to be a "brutal" and "relentless" three weeks.
Riders will face back-to-back summit finishes at special-category peaks on Stages 14 and 15 in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
After a second rest day, the race heads north for its only individual time trial (this year's Tour had two), a 40-kilometer (25-mile) ride from the Circuito de Navarra to Logrono.
Stage 17 also promises to test even the toughest climbers with a Category 2 and a Category 1 climb before a special-category summit finish at Los Machucos.
But the course saved its best for last with a penultimate stage offering a pair of Category 1 climbs before a grueling ascent to the special-category finish at the Alto de l'Angliru.
"It's a race I love doing, but it's relentless," Froome said. "The course is always a lot more mountainous than the Tour de France and the conditions are tougher. Being mid-August in Spain, it's quite common to have temperatures up in the mid-40s (100s F). It's absolutely brutal."