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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) gutted out a fourth place on Mont Ventoux
Katusha rider says the Spanish won't join forces against Froome
Despite his flashy new saddle design, the Spaniard was practically invisible in the first two weeks of the race. With the Tour now in its final stages, Rodríguez seems to have found some of his form. This weekend he finished an impressive fourth on Mont Ventoux to move himself from 10th to eight.
The Katusha rider jumped another place on stage 16, after Jakob Fuglsang failed to make the decisive cut in the final kilometres and lost a minute to the other GC riders. Another step closer to the top, Rodríguez is happy with the way he's going but still feels like he can get much more out of this year's Tour.
"It's a great pleasure to move up a place, but I haven't got onto the podium yet," he said after the stage. "I would like to do well, and I will give my maximum this week. We are in the high mountains this week, and it's a very important and hard week. There are still three more big stages and there are people with very tired legs and a lot of fatigue."
Currently there is a gulf of two minutes and 36 seconds that separate Rodríguez and the rider in third, Alberto Contador. The Saxo-Tinkoff rider has looked shaky, most recently on Mont Ventoux when he lost 1:40 to Chris Froome and 17 seconds to his the Katusha rider.
Rodríguez thinks that there is still time to make up the gap and take his first Tour de France podium. "Why not?" he said, when asked if he really thought it was possible. "Tomorrow is a good time trial and a hard time trial. I have some good sensations and I think that I can get third place. First is for the English, second the Colombians and third I want for me."
Rodríguez's time trialling skills have never been a point of pride for the Spaniard, who has lost Grand Tours, more than once, in a time trial. However, he performed well at last year's mountain time trial at the Vuelta and will be hoping to channel his performance there into the 32 kilometres from Embrun to Chorges.
Almost since the Tour started, there has been talk about a possible Spanish union against Froome in an attempt to take the yellow jersey for one of their own. We saw inklings of this when the Tour first ventured into the mountains. Movistar looked to react to an order from Contador, to attack. Despite this and having a good friendship with his fellow compatriots, Rodríguez says that his loyalties lie with his team. "No it won't happen, because I race for Katusha and the others riders for Saxo-Tinkoff and Alejandro [Valverde] rides for Movistar, and they all want their places in the general classification."
Neither Contador nor Rodríguez look likely to risk their own podium place for the other and with Nairo Quintana in with a shout of a top three placing, Valverde is unlikely to play a part in any union. While the yellow jersey looks to be all but confirmed for Froome, the battle for second and third could see some sparks flying.