After two and a half weeks of Vuelta racing in which he has repeatedly said that he has not been able to recover from his efforts in the Tour de France as well as he would have liked, Joaquim Rodriguez finally gave some indication of rising form on Friday as he shot away to claim a lone win at Naranco.
His win was taken in classic Purito style, blasting off a kilometre from the Naranco summit with an unmatchable acceleration and then holding off the opposition on the flatter final segments. He claimed 14 seconds on Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard), the first of the big favourites across the line in fifth, plus a handy ten second time bonus, and is now at 1-57 overall.
The Vuelta is Rodríguez first stage win since Tirreno-Adriatico, although the Catalan has not exactly been sleeping on his laurels since then, with his second place in the Volta a Catalunya, second place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, , and third place in the Tour de France. He has now racked up seven stage wins in the Vuelta since he took his first in the Pyrenees way back in 2003, and he has won at least one Vuelta stage every year since 2010.
“Today was my last real chance with the Angliru tomorrow, but it was the team that really made the difference,” Rodriguez said afterwards.
“They worked so hard, right the way from kilometre zero to ensure I had a chance, and if I didn’t really believe in my chances today before the start, the team basically convinced me that I had to try for it and see what happened.
He had received advice about how to tackle the climb from his father Joaquim, a former pro who knew the Naranco well from when it featured more regularly in the Vuelta.
“Tell the truth, Dad’s been giving me advice every day,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “And so have lots of people. For example, thanks to somebody's advice I knew that with a kilometre to go was where it was hardest and so I’d have to try for it there and then hope I could get through the last part. It’s nice to win on such a prestigious climb.”
Rodriguez fourth place at 1-57 is looking solid, with an advantage of nearly two minutes over Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff). But after finishing on the podium of every Grand Tour he started since the Giro 2012, Rodriguez is determined to try to improve on his overall position on the Angliru and go for broke there.
“I tried to do a lot more in the Tour [where he finished third] when there was a much bigger gap in the overall, so why not here,” Rodriguez, third in the Vuelta last year, said afterwards.
“If cycling was just ‘two plus two equals four’ then Horner would win and we might as well all go home now.”
“But it’s not. Tomorrow’s the Angliru, and anything can happen. The time differences will be much bigger and I’m going to do something there.”
Rodriguez also pointed out that Nibali is far from beaten even if he is weakening, “and he can’t just wait until the Angliru, he has to go for it from further out. So we have to factor that in too.”