Former HTC-Highroad directeur sportif Valerio Piva has found a new role at Katusha: rather than targeting stage wins with the likes of Mark Cavendish, he now directs Joaquim Rodriguez in defence of the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia. With nine days to go in the corsa rosa, he gives his Spanish protégé a 50 per cent chance of winning the overall classification in Milan.
During stage 12 to Sestri Levante, Piva and Rodriguez discussed tactics with 65km to go and decided to let Sandy Casar take over the lead for a couple of days but the Liquigas-Cannondale team made the opposite decision. With the excuse of keeping Ivan Basso out of trouble by racing at the front of the peloton, they maintained the pressure on “Purito” who has to attend podium ceremonies, TV interviews, doping control and press conference every day that he’s in pink.
“But every day, Joaquim’s confidence is increasing”, Piva told Cyclingnews on the Italian Riviera.
“He’s living nice days of his life with the pink jersey. However, the real tests will be on Saturday and Sunday when the Giro will hit the mountains. I haven’t seen anything yet. All the favorites have done their best to hide themselves so far. The only one who didn’t is Joaquim but it’s normal that he came out in a stage that suited him so well [stage 10 to Assisi]. I don’t know who is likely to go well in the climbs or not. We haven’t raced in the mountains yet this year. On Sunday, we’ll have a clearer picture about who is declining and who is improving.”
Piva added that Rodriguez has a 50 per cent chance of winning the Giro d’Italia this year. “He’s got an advantage: he’s ahead of everyone else on GC”, the Italian coach said. “It’s important to not let oneself caught by panic or euphoria. Joaquim has made a little mistake by attacking the day before Assisi, but it’s a harmless mistake that won’t count at the end of the Giro.”
After working for years with anglo-saxon sprinters, Piva, 54, discovers life at the helm of a squad dedicated to make a Spanish climber an overall winner. “I have some experience in stage races though”, he noted.
“Grand tours aren’t that different from shorter stage races. I knew Rodriguez as a rider, and now I've discover him as a person. He’s very intelligent and very open minded. He’s good at creating a team around him. The group is very attached to his ambition. The domestiques are totally committed. Now Joaquim is mature enough for winning a grand tour. He’s serene.”