Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) snatched away the lead from Fabio Aru (Astana) by the bare minimum of one second on the final summit finish of the Vuelta a Espana, but despite taking command of his country’s Grand Tour, the Spanish veteran pulled no punches about whom he considered the maximum favourite for Madrid.
Ninth on the stage, Rodriguez late acceleration and the ultra-steep slopes of the Ermita del Alba failed to dislodge Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) from the overall battle and the Spaniard argued that with Wednesday’s 38.7 kilometre time trial next on the Vuelta menu, the Dutchman, now just 1:51 back, would be in pole position to regain the lead.
“Dumoulin raced way better on this climb than he did yesterday [on stage 15’s summit finish] and he’ll be ready for the time trial, he’ll have a day to recover as well.”
“For me, doing a good time trial would place me on the podium in Madrid. For me to win the Vuelta, he’s got to crack.”
Rodriguez was upbeat to a point, saying “I’ll give it everything, I will try as hard as possible to win. If I didn’t there’d be no reason for me to be here.” But Dumoulin’s time trial performance in Burgos looks set to decide the 2015 race, and Rodriguez, having lost a Vuelta in 2010 in a third week time trial, was none too keen to play up his chances.
With bonus seconds that could prove vital in the outcome of the Vuelta on the stage to Ermita del Alba, Rodriguez said that Katusha had tried to stir up a more relentless chase of the day’s breakaway far earlier than on the last three climbs. However, there was no collaboration from other squads until it was too late.
“The break got so much time because everybody was tired and scared of the last few mountains and then they got a gap that was too big to close,” he argued. “It was the classic situation of everybody looking at everybody else, waiting for somebody to make the first move."
Attacking alone from further out was impossible, he said. “Tinkoff-Saxo went for it on the [third-last] climb of the Cordal, then Astana kept a very high pace with Mikel Landa [on the last climb].”
Rodriguez played his trump card of a final acceleration as the finish loomed, but Fabio Aru (Astana) seemed to gain in strength as the climb progressed, and the time gap, finally, was minimal - just two seconds in the Spaniard’s favour. The balance therefore tipped in the Katusha leader’s favour on Monday’s stage, but by the barest minimum. And on Wednesday, the ball will be in Dumoulin’s court.