BARCELONA, Spain — Chris Froome will be racing both for and against history when the Spanish Vuelta starts Saturday.
The Tour de France champion is aiming to become the third cyclist to win both the Tour and the Vuelta in the same season, after Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978).
However Froome will need to improve on his past Vuelta performances, which yielded two runner-up finishes.
The 30-year-old Froome established himself as a rising talent in 2011 when he finished second behind winner Juanjo Cobo as a teammate of Bradley Wiggins, the Sky team's then leader. Last year, he was beaten only by Alberto Contador, who will not attempt to defend his title after winning the Giro d'Italia and tiring at the Tour this summer.
Froome also will be battling fatigue from the Tour that finished less than a month ago. But the Kenyan-born Froome, who appears to handle even the intense Mediterranean heat better than most of the homegrown riders, will have the major psychological advantage built upon his dominant display at the French race, where he obliterated the field during an early mountain stage at La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border.
"I have great memories from this race so I'm pleased to be back," Froome said. "I've had a good rest after the Tour and now I'm ready for my next challenge."
THE QUIET MAN
Froome is not the only rider eager to remove the label of second best.
Nairo Quintana has finished second behind Froome in both of the Briton's Tour wins— at 1 minute, 12 seconds behind this summer— making the Colombian climbing expert the leading candidate to challenge Froome at the Vuelta.
Quintana was also among the favorites entering last year's Vuelta, but a pair of crashes knocked him out of the race with a broken shoulder.
With the 2014 Giro title, Quintana has already proven to be among the very best with his impassive demeanor and always-in-control uphill pace. But to beat Froome, he may have to find an explosive edge and take more risks.
THE OTHER CANDIDATES
Vincenzo Nibali will be eager to bounce back from a Tour that saw the Italian finish in fourth place, but more than 8 minutes off Froome's pace.
Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010 before also claiming the Giro in 2013 and the Tour in 2014.
Another former winner, Alejandro Valverde, will join Movistar alongside Quintana, while American Tejay Van Garderen will be back after withdrawing from the Tour because of a respiratory infection.
The 70th edition of the Vuelta again favors strong climbers with 13 hilly or mountainous stages and nine summit finishes that are all completely new to the race.
Beginning with Saturday's team time trial in the coastal town of Puerto Banus, the first 10 stages will be in the southern part of the peninsula.
The race then turns more mountainous as it heads north to the Pyrenees principality of Andorra.
The final week is designed to be the most demanding. Stages 14, 15 and 16 have consecutive summit finishes at Alto Campoo, Sotre and Ermita de Alba.
"Most of the race's main difficulties will be at the north of Spain and Andorra, while a different kind of hardness will be found in Andalusia," said Movistar team director Eusebio Unzue. "Everyone could feel the high temperatures we suffered for a whole week last year, and that will surely add some wear and tear."
The individual time trial in Burgos could also shake up the standings on stage 17 before a penultimate stage of four category-one climbs ahead of the ceremonial arrival to Madrid on Sept. 13.