Joaquim Rodríguez will turn 35 four days into his bid to take the Giro d’Italia title, but the Spaniard says that age is but a number and it won’t get in the way of him beating his younger counterparts on the challenging route.
“This year with Katusha, I feel like I am in my second youth,” Rodríguez told Biciciclismo at the Tour de San Luis. “I find myself tougher than in other years. Before, on summit finishes I was missing something. Now I notice that it costs less.”
In 2013, Rodríguez ended the season atop the WorldTour rankings for the second consecutive year and his third in total. He said that he feels as good as ever as he embarks on his 14th season as a professional.
Rodríguez still has another two years remaining on his contract with Katusha. He will be 36 when it runs out at the end of 2015, but he doesn’t think that it will be his last. “I see myself racing until I’m 38 or 39,” he explains.
“It is unknown, but who sets the limits? I am better than ever. Do I say, just because the calendar says I’m 37, that I quit? Then, I could have a bad 2014 and 2015 and say that it’s over.”
In May, Rodríguez will return to the Giro d’Italia, after focusing on the Tour de France last season. He came close to winning the title in 2012, but saw it slip through his fingers on the final day, and lost the maglia rosa by 16 seconds to Ryder Hesjedal.
Despite the disappointment of losing out on the victory, the Giro d’Italia was Rodríguez’s podium finish at a grand tour. Many had expected him to crumble in the final race against the clock, but he put in his best time trial performance to date. The Spaniard believes that the key to that ride came from another disappointment he suffered two years previously.
“The turning point was when I made a fool of myself in the time trial in Peñafiel, at the 2010 Vuelta,” says Rodríguez. “We had the Vuelta won, we were the best by a lot. We arrived with such a big time difference and then to leave with this disaster. It was very hard. Then I realised that I had to do things very well, as I could win big things.”
Rodríguez has almost become a modern day Raymond Poulidor, as he has come close to so many big victories but just missed out. Most recently, he was pipped to world championships victory by Rui Costa. His loss caused some controversy, as the break included two Spaniards [Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde], and it was speculated that Valverde chose not to follow Costa when he chased down Rodríguez.
He was visibly upset on the podium, but says that while the relationship with his compatriot is good, all isn’t forgiven. “There are no problems,” Rodríguez said. “That’s the truth. I am very angry with him, of course, and he will think that I was wrong and that he could have become champion. I can understand what he says, but I do not share it.”
“I’ve said it a thousand times, if Alejandro had gone with Rui, he or I could have won.”
Rodríguez will be looking to shake off the title of the ‘nearly man’ this season, and he has confirmed that he will ride both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España in the hope of finally taking the top step of the podium.