“In the Vuelta there’s almost always somebody new who makes his first bid as a GC rider, but this time round I think it’s going to be very hard,” the 35-year-old veteran said in a press conference on Thursday.
“Almost every team here has a good rider for GC. I could see that just when I was having a meal in the restuarant of our hotel - and I was impressed by the number of other rivals who were eating there too.”
Expanding on the subject, Rodriguez added, “The list of GC contenders is as long as my arm. Nairo [Quintana - Movistar] is the one who’s given out the clearest indication he’s in form recently, with his win in the Vuelta a Burgos. But Froome hasn’t said anything to indicate he’s not going well, Alejandro [Valverde] is always good in the Vuelta, Alberto [Contador] will be in good shape...”
As for Purito, his road to the Vuelta has not been a straightforward one by anybody’s reckoning, but it seems to have worked out well. Fourth in last year’s Vuelta - and a stage winner in Asturias - following a third place in the Tour de France, this time round the 35-year-old crashed out injured of the Giro d’Italia early on, then rode the Tour, mainly as a way of strengthening his form for the Vuelta. Third in the Clásica San Sebastian confirmed he had come out of the Tour in good shape.
“It’s always the same. The first rival you have to face in a Grand Tour is yourself, in the sense that you have to be sure that you are in top form and be sure to overcome any obstacles to acheiving that. Only then do you face the other contenders.”
“My first objective was to reach Jerez in top form, and I think I’m there. And in terms of ganas” - the Spanish word which translates roughly as motivation - “I’ve got more ganas than I have ever had for a Grand Tour. The preparation for this hasn’t been ideal - crashing out of the Giro, then racing the Tour with no real breaks - but from the moment the Tour finished, the moment I got off the bike in Paris, I knew I was in good shape. And that's really motivated me."
Purito has hit the goalposts more often than many GC contenders when it comes to Grand Tours, but has yet to win one outright. The rider that felled him in 2012 in the Vuelta, when he was perhaps closest in Spain’s top stage race - Alberto Contador - is back again on the start line, but with major questionmarks over his form. Yet the Katusha pro dodged the question of whether he and the other top names would be racing hard early on to ensure that Contador could not (as he did in 2012) ride himself into top condition.
“I’m not so sure he’s going to be in poor shape,” Rodriguez claimed. “The good thing is this route is so hard we’ll see where he’s at from the word go." And he paid an indirect compliment to Contador's determination to succeed by concluding, "Basically, Alberto is going to be a favourite until it becomes clear that he’s decided that’s no longer the case.”