Team Katusha's Joaquin "Purito" Rodriguez scored an important victory by taking over the Vuelta a España race lead on stage 10 to Vilanova i la Geltrù. With a two-second time bonus for an intermediate sprint, he inched ahead of the previous leader Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and will now wear the coveted red leader's jersey in his home region of Catalunya.
After soaking up his time on the podium, Rodriguez announced that he is not only riding to bring home the overall Vuelta title in Madrid, but in doing so he hopes to overtake Tour de France winner Alberto Contador as the world's number one ranked rider.
After winning the Tour of Catalunya, the GP Miguel Indurain, stage 5 of the Tour of the Basque country and stage 12 of the Tour de France in Mende, the Catalan rider also has the boundless ambition to win the world championship in Geelong, Australia, on October 3rd.
Toward his immediate goal, Rodriguez fought hard for the intermediate time bonus at the 40km mark of Tuesday's stage and, coming in just behind sprinters Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, succeeded in pushing ahead of Anton to the race lead.
"The value of this jersey is higher because of the hard work we've done for it than the fact of taking the lead in my region of Catalunya," Rodriguez said. "I've worked so hard for this jersey at the beginning of the Vuelta. I wanted it earlier but it's better now than never. Every rider has his own view on tactics. Some prefer to take the leader's jersey the latest possible but for me, any advantage is good to take."
There is one major obstacle to his success in the Vuelta, and that is the 46km time trial on stage 17 in Peñafiel. "I need to gain seconds anywhere before the time trial," he said. "Should the positions and time difference be the same before Peñafiel, I wouldn't stay in the top five, so I have to gain more time.
"We've worked a lot already at the head of the peloton even without having the jersey, so we'll just continue the job we've already started several days ago. Well, if it becomes too complicated for the Katusha team, we won't die on the road to save the jersey but I'm happy to take some advantage over important riders."
Rodriguez sees tomorrow's stage to Andorra as a prime opportunity to gain important time on his rivals. "I usually train a lot in Andorra prior to the Grand Tours," he said. "I've been there before the Vuelta as well as before the Tour de France. This is a stage that can help me gain time over my rivals."
Formerly cast in the role of a domestique, Rodriguez, 30, never rode the Tour de France before this year, but has been freed to be a team leader since his move to Katusha. After a third at the world championship last year in Mendrisio, he now has the mindset of a champion and is aiming for the top step in Australia. "I'll be free to ride my own race to win," he said.