Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) continued on his mission to salvage his Tour de France with a fifth place result Thursday on stage 18 and its double ascent of Alpe d'Huez. The last week of the Tour has seen Rodríguez in a rich vein of form, allowing him to move up places in the general classification almost daily.
"I just wish I could have had this form in the Pyrenees too," he said ruefully after stage 18. "Because I certainly would have been a bit further up."
Rodríguez lost a lot of time to the main contenders when the race hit the Pyrenees and found himself languishing outside of the top 10, almost six minutes down on the leader. The Spaniard doesn't believe that his bad showing in opening stages was down to a lack of training.
"I had prepared very well for this Tour de France," he said. "I think I wasn't at my true level in the Pyrenees. There was something that wasn't going right and this is my real level now, which is the same as I showed at the Giro and the Vuelta last year."
The Katusha rider's turn of form came on the wind-affected stage 13, where he made time on some of his rivals and moved back into the clutches of the top 10. Since then he has moved up at least one position in the general classification on all but one day, when the peloton finished all together.
Rodríguez's performance on Alpe d'Huez puts him into fifth overall and gives him a genuine shot at a podium place. "Getting on the podium in all three of the Grand Tours would be a great achievement," said the 34-year-old Spaniard, who took second at the Giro and third at the Vuelta last year. "Winning it is beyond me this year. It's impossible to peg back [Chris] Froome now but I've given myself a chance of getting on the podium."
With no time trial on the penultimate day, Rodríguez has two big mountain stages to make his mark on the race. "Tomorrow and the day after are two stages that I know well because we went and looked at them as a team. We'll try and we'll do everything we can because getting on the podium is very important."
The penultimate stage to Annecy-Semnoz is likely to suit Rodríguez's capabilities the most. The steep summit finish is something he favours and is likely to provide him with the group selection he needs to reach the final podium in Paris.