Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha) is relishing the change of emphasis in his season that the Ardennes Classics signals. After spending much of the season riding in support of his Katusha teammates, the 30-year-old Catalan will be one of the team’s leaders for the next part of the season running up to and into the Tour de France.
Already a winner of a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country and the overall title at his ‘home’ race, the Volta a Catalunya, Rodríguez believes that he can have a significant impact in the Ardennes despite a poor showing in Amstel Gold last weekend.
“He wasn’t too good there because he was suffering a little bit with stomach problems,” his team boss Jef Braeckevelt told La Dernière Heure. Like many others, the Spaniard had been forced to undertake a long car journey to make the start at Amstel.
Up to this year Rodríguez came to the Ardennes knowing that his task would be to work for his Caisse d’Epargne team leader, Alejandro Valverde. This year, though, he is looking forward to testing himself against Valverde and others on the Mur de Huy today and Liège’s many climbs on Sunday.
“The Mur de Huy suits me perfectly. I love it!” says the Spaniard. “This time instead of working for Valverde I will be able to play my own card.”
Bearing in mind that he’s also known as the ‘King of Montelupone’ having twice won at the top of that town’s 22 per cent ramps in Tirreno-Adriatico, his passion for the Mur is understandable. Back that up with his second place in Liège last year, and Rodríguez’s partnership with former Flèche winner Kim Kirchen marks Katusha out as among the teams to watch following their strong showing at Amstel.
For Rodríguez, though, the Ardennes is just the start of his progress towards his Tour de France debut where a route that’s heavy on climbs and light on time trialling could well make him a surprise package as a contender for the yellow jersey.