Joaquim Rodriguez, the number one ranked rider by the UCI for 2010, is fired up for the Giro d'Italia, a race he has chosen as his main goal for the 2011 season. That decision came after the Team Katusha racer realized that the course suits him more than any Grand Tour he has done in the past.
"I'm ready to challenge Contador," he told Cyclingnews in Turin. "Alberto has showed that he's very strong and he won the Giro before (in 2008), but this Giro has a very different course. This Giro is more difficult than the Tour de France. Alberto is not the only favourite, let's say he's the main favourite."
"I'm now in the condition I wanted to have at the start of the Giro. There are so many mountains! The steeper it is, the better it is for me. These are the most difficult mountains for a Grand Tour. It's a perfect course for me, especially because of the few numbers of kilometres against the clock.
Rodriguez said he not thinking of what might happen to Contador once the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) makes its decision - expected sometime after the Giro d'Italia - on Contador's doping case.
Referring to Contador, Italian reporters mentioned to Rodriguez that this will be the first time the potential winner of the Giro might have his result cancelled after the race, should CAS decide to ban him. But Rodriguez, who is the captain of Katusha, insisted that it won't influence how he races.
"I have a style, and I won't change it," Rodriguez said. "My style is to attack and to listen to my feelings. With all the time bonuses up for grabs at uphill finishes, I just have to follow my instincts anyway."
"The only difference compared to the Vuelta a España last year is that I won't be trying to get the pink jersey at the beginning of the race. What counts is to have the pink jersey at the end."
At the 2010 Vuelta a España, Rodriguez desperately wanted to get the red jersey for the stages in Catalunya in front of his fans at home. Racing in Italy with the same form and the same ambition as in Spain might help him race in a more calculated way, instead of riding the emotional wave that comes along with being cheered on by all the locals when racing at home.
"I love Italy, and I've done the Giro three times before," said Rodriguez, remembering the years he had asked - albeit unsuccessfully - his directors from ONCE, Saunier Duval and Caisse d'Epargne to ride the Tour de France. 2010 was the first year he got to start the Tour de France; the opportunity came after he moved to the Katusha team.
"Clearly, I've prepared for the Giro at 100 percent, and I want to finish at the highest possible position. I didn't start the year as I wished, I wasn't myself at Tirreno-Adriatico, but after I got a treatment for a cyst on my femur, I got a stage win at the Volta ai Pais Vasco that reset my mind and turned me back into a fighter."
"In the team time trial on Sunday, we hope to be as close to Saxo Bank as possible. The uphill time trial favors me, and I hope the classification will be set before the closing (individual) time trial in Milan."
Katusha's directeur sportif Serge Parsani said the team has been built around Rodriguez for the overall classification. The team is without the participation of Filippo Pozzato and Denis Galimzyanov, who would have targeted stage wins.gi