It's pretty unusual to see Joaquim Rodriguez staying away from racing for so long but the 34-year-old looked like a beginner when he reached the start line of the Dauphiné in Champéry, Switzerland. Obviously, something was missing in his life as his last competition was six weeks ago with Liège-Bastogne-Liège where he came second behind Dan Martin.
"For once, I don't come to a race with the aim of winning, I don't have the legs for that," the Spaniard warned Cyclingnews on the start line – but that was a few seconds prior to going and inspecting the last 200 metres of stage 1, so he still had some intention to be a protagonist. When the peloton entered the final hill in the last ten kilometers of racing, two Katusha riders, mostly Mikhail Ignatiev, went to the front of the bunch to reduce the deficit to eventual winner David Veilleux of Europcar who still had a lead of three minutes.
"I like the Dauphiné," 'Purito' added. "When I discovered this race two years ago, I kind of regretted that I didn't take part in it earlier in my career because the terrain suits me very much with uphill finishes in the Alps. But in the past, I've had different programs, I've often done the Giro and not the Tour."
In 2011, Rodriguez won the two best stages of the Dauphiné that were included late in his schedule, because he was still feeling fresh and hungry for racing towards the end of the Giro. "The Giro gives riders a great condition," his directeur sportif Valerio Piva explained. "For those who are still able to race after, it's a good option to prolong with the Dauphiné. That's what Joaquim did two years, that's what we did again with Dani Moreno who also won two stages here last year.
"But this year, they don't have that condition to win. Joaquim is resuming racing. He has trained well but he doesn't have the level for looking at winning the Dauphiné, so our goal is to win a stage. He stayed at home in Andorra where he also encountered bad weather like other riders did at many races."
During his break, Rodriguez also finalized business duties and extended his contract with Katusha until 2015, so did his Spanish teammates Moreno, Angel Vicioso, Alberto Losada and Xavier Florencio. "This is the best way to keep up the good work," 'Purito' said. "We have a solid group of friends to tackle news goals. Serenity is on our side now that we know about our future."
A double winner of the World Tour in 2010 and 2012, Rodriguez has put this goal aside for now and targets more specific races to win rather than just being the most consistent rider from January to October. "I don't have many years left, so it's the right time to give it all for the Tour de France," he said. In thirteen seasons as a professional with ONCE, Saunier Duval and Caisse d'Epargne prior to joining the Russian team, he only rode the Tour once with a stage win up to Mende and the seventh place overall in 2010.
"This year's Tour looks very good for me on paper," he said. "I would have loved to be at my best for the Dauphiné. Looking at the route and the riders in contention, it's obvious that great battles can be done here. But I'm not on form yet. I want to be on form at the right time for the Tour de France."