While he didn't hide his disappointment at not wearing the leader's jersey of the Vuelta a España into his home region of Catalunya, Joaquin Rodriguez says he'll fight for overall honours until Madrid
The Katusha leader sits in second place on general classification behind Igor Antón, with both riders locked on the same time after nine stages. Many are tipping Rodriguez for overall honours at race's end, although he made no secret he'd have liked to ride in the red jersey amongst family and friends.
"I'm sorry not to have come to Catalonia in red; I said that I'd come out with force and in good shape, and it's now coming true," Rodriguez told Spanish sports daily Marca. "Coming home to my people in red was important to me, but it wasn't possible. In Xorret [de Catí], I thought I had done it, but at the last second I was flattened," he added.
Like the only man above him on general classification, Igor Antón, Rodriguez believes the day up the Alto de Cotobello will be decisive for those with aspirations for overall honours in Madrid. "I see no clear favourite in the Vuelta, someone who is above others; we will have to wait for Pal or Cotobello to draw conclusions. The three pillars of the north will be brutal and there may be differences [overall]," he explained.
While some of his rivals are tipping Vincenzo Nibali as the man for the Vuelta title rather than Rodriguez, the gutsy Spaniard, who won 12 stage of this year's Tour de France, is not so sure. "They have to prove their status as favourites - his team has done nothing to make it clear that they lead with a better rider; it remains to be seen on the road," he said.
And he wasn't pulling any punches regarding what's ahead for the Vuelta peloton; he knows that the toughest days await and that will decide who the real favourites are. "There are 19 guys within two minutes and the mountains have not yet begun. The second week is the hardest and it will search out the favourites. Now there are big differences, but not final," said Rodriguez.
While he admits that his form is good this season - as seen in Tour stage win in Mende - he's also aware of where his weaknesses lie. "Since February, I have not pushed the piston down and so far I'm fine. Now we begin on my terrain and I have to take the opportunity to take time because then there's the time trial and I'll lose time," he said.