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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) steps up onto the Fleche Wallonne podium
Spaniard would have traded all his second places for this win
Joaquim Rodriguez finally won his Classic. After two second places in the Fleche Wallonne, a runner-up slot in both the Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Katusha rider bagged his Classic. And he did it as a hot favourite and after his team took the race by the scruff of the neck.
"I've waited for this day for a long time. I know I'm Spanish and Spanish riders are not supposed to be Classics riders. We have a reputation for the big Tours, not the Northern Classics, but I have always loved the Ardennes races more," said the 33-year-old Rodriguez after exiting the post-race doping control. "This win means a lot to me. I would have swapped all my second places, all those runner-up positions for one win in the Ardennes because they are so important to me."
Ironically - or was it - he had launched his winning attack at the same steep left hand corner as 2011 winner Phillip Gilbert (BMC). Had he realised at the time? "Yes, I did. I attacked there but I still wasn't entirely sure because I suspected it was maybe a bit too far from the line, so I had my doubts. In the end I just went for it and, with 50 meters to go, I gave it everything I had again. I realised that Gilbert had attacked there because it really was the best place to attack."
And, speaking of Gilbert, who finished third, did he reckon that his form was as good as Gilbert's was in 2011? "I don't know about that. Last year Phil was too strong to be beaten and this year for sure he isn't at the same level as he was last Spring when he really was untouchable. But he is coming back, you can see that from the Amstel Gold result and you could see that today in the race."
"It was a hard race today, and RadioShack-Nissan made life difficult but I'm not sure it could have been much harder! The first hour was like riding Paris - Tours it was so fast. It was windy, wet, there were crashes and echelons - it was chaos. Did I expect it to be harder? No thanks, that was hard enough," said Rodriguez, laughing.
But the race and the focus were on Rodriguez, and he was pleased to have gotten the eternal runner-up monkey off his back. Was his switch to Katusha from Caisse d'Epargne where he played second fiddle to Alejandro Valverde a liberation? Or did he feel pressure because it was clear for all to see that Katusha put all its Fleche eggs into his basket.
"I always lacked a little something earlier on in my career to win one of the big Classics, and the team change helped with that. But I've been in the top five rankings in the world too. Who knows, if Gilbert hadn't been around in such great form, then maybe I would have won a Classic by now?"
Inevitably, the question of the recent positive (EPO) test announced by his Katusha teammate Denis Galimzyanov was raised. What would he say to the doubters? "He did what he did but it's already in the past. It's finished. It shows that we are catching the cheats and that we should all be happy," said Rodriguez without emotion. The message and tone was, "Let's move on, shall we?"
Moving on, Cyclingnews asked him if he would have a crack at the overall classification of the Giro d'Italia, Rodriguez said, "No, one thing at a time and the first thing is to do a good ride on Sunday at Liege."