As the route of the 2012 Vuelta a España was unveiled on Wednesday, the broadest smile in Pamplona’s Palacio de Congresos may well have belonged to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). With summit finishes littered throughout the three weeks and just 40km of individual time trialling, the former world number one recognised that he has a golden opportunity to add a grand tour to his palmares in 2012.
“It's really amazing,” Rodriguez told reporters afterwards. “There are plenty of hard stages and I really like it.”
While there are no fewer than seven official summit finishes on the route, Rodriguez is aware that he will have the chance to showcase his ability as a puncheur on several other occasions. Stage 12 to Mirador de Ezaro above La Coruña is not listed as a summit finish, but the peloton will tackle 28% slopes on the climb to the line.
“The stage to Ezaro is just what I’m looking for, so I'll be aiming to win that day,” Rodriguez said.
That stage comes the day after the race’s sole individual time trial, traditionally a glaringly exposed Achilles heel in Rodriguez’s armoury. On this occasion, however, the Catalan has a fighting chance of limiting his losses. “At least the time trial has a hill in it, because we all know time trials are usually pretty bad for me,” he admitted.
The Vuelta’s penultimate weekend sees the race take in three consecutive summit finish in the northwest of the country, and Rodriguez expects the stages to Las Ancares, Lagos de Covadonga and Cuitu Negro to prove decisive.
“I think those three stages in a row are going to be very hard, so we'll definitely have to go and check out Cuitu Negro,” said Rodriguez. “That's the stage where it'll all be decided.”
In recent years, the outcome of the Vuelta has remained in doubt until the races final weekend, and while Rodriguez expects the winning margin to be tight again this time around.
“It will be very nervous, especially in the first part, and very hard in the second, with all those mountains,” he told Biciciclismo. “Every day it will be possible to lose or gain precious seconds, which means that a lot of riders will be in with a chance up to the end.”