Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) arrives at the Vuelta a Espana in near perfect form and is hoping that 2011 is the year he finally breaks through at the Spanish Grand Tour. Rodriguez, 32, recently won the Vuelta a Burgos, and was a league above other Vuelta contenders Igor Anton [8th overall] and Denis Menchov [24th overall].
"I’m not hiding that I’m well and that I’m going to race to win," said Rodriguez. "It will be twenty days of hard racing - many things can happen but I know that I’ve worked the best I could have. I'm confident of delivering a better result than last year’s fourth place overall."
The Spaniard wore the red leader's jersey after the finish of stage 16 of last year's race, but completely collapsed on the following day's time trial to concede 6:12 to stage winner Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad) and any hope of overall victory. After significant work on his position over the off-season, he has shown some improvement against the clock. At the Giro d'Italia, he finished 40th in the final stage time trial in Milan, and at the Criterium du Dauphine he clocked a respectable time of 59:23 on the stage around Grenoble.
Neither are huge leaps, but they do show that the Spaniard is capable of minimising his losses in the Vuelta's only time trial test, a flat 47km around Salamanca.
"My performances against the clock have improved at the Giro and the Dauphiné but it doesn’t mean that I’m becoming a time trial specialist," he said. "I’ve worked really hard on riding better than I did in Peñafiel last year. I hope to avoid another disaster like that this year."
Supporting Rodriguez will be a strong Katusha team, including Dani Moreno and Juan Horrach, who each showed some solid pre-Vuelta form in Burgos.
"I go to the Vuelta with the advantage of having a great team around me. I was not the only one from Katusha going well at Burgos," he said. "We [Horrach, Losada, Moreno] are doing well and I know that the guys doing the Tour of Poland were also on good form. Everything makes me optimistic."
Though never reliant on his team, Rodriguez's bid for Vuelta glory is certainly leaving no box unticked, and with the race rolling out on Saturday the seasoned Spaniard is simply aiming to do the best race he can.
"I want to reach Madrid with my mind free of regrets and worries, that's all I can do. I'm confident in my preparation."