A sharp acceleration just under two kilometres from the summit of Pian dei Resinelli was enough to put Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) back into the overall lead at the Giro d’Italia, a position he insisted that he never expected to occupy at this point in the race.
Wary of the opening flat stages in Denmark and the team time trial in Verona, Rodriguez was prepared to enter the Giro’s final days trying to figure out how to go about recouping his losses, but instead finds himself 30 seconds clear of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) and 1:22 ahead of Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
“I’m surprised because before the Giro I expected to be behind coming into the first rest day,” Rodriguez told reporters after he descended from the podium, once again ensconced in pink. “I thought at this point I’d be assessing how much time I needed to take back on the climbs in the last week, but now everything changes for me.”
A strong showing from Katusha in Verona meant that Rodriguez approached the opening climbs of the Giro on more or less level pegging with his rivals, but the lead he has eked out since has been a product of a tightly-controlled race in which nobody has had room to wind up for a potentially decisive blow. The terrain has instead favoured those who can land a number of quick jabs, and the punchy Rodriguez duly obliged by careering away from his rivals at Assisi and again in the wet and cold of Pian dei Resinelli. “Now we’ve reached the last week and I have the jersey and a nice bit of time on my rivals,” Rodriguez said.
Rarely at home such conditions, Rodriguez made light of his surroundings when he shut down a move from Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and then quickly ripped clear of the other contenders on the approach to the summit. He duly blasted past his teammate Alberto Losada, part of an earlier breakaway, before setting off in grim pursuit of the lone leader Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia).
In barely more than 1,000 metres of climbing, Rodriguez remarkably pegged back almost a minute on Rabottini, but when he caught the Italian with 400 metres to go, he was unable or unwilling to drop him, and was outsprinted at the summit of the climb. Rodriguez was quick to deny that there were shades of his fellow countrymen Miguel Indurain or Alberto Contador’s famous largesse about the finale, insisting that Rabottini was a deserved winner.
“No, he won well,” Rodriguez said. “I thought I’d be able to drop him as he had done a lot of kilometres of the front, but I actually wasn’t able to do that and then he beat me in the sprint. You always want to win a stage at the Giro, whether it’s with bonuses or not.”
Hesjedal the danger
While Rodriguez could scarcely hide his delight at the advantage he now enjoys over Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger (5th at 1:27) and Michele Scarponi (6th at 1:36), he warned that second-placed Ryder Hesjedal should not be ruled out of contention. As Rodriguez knows from past experience, he cannot allow the Canadian to remain in striking distance ahead of the time trial on the final day in Milan.
“Hesjedal is still there,” he said. “In the 2010 Tour, he passed me in the last time trial and if he’s still there on the last day here, he could be very dangerous.”
Before that, however, Rodriguez will look to put further time into Hesjedal in the high peaks of the Dolomites, and he played down the notion that his relative unfamiliarity with that terrain might swing the advantage back in the direction of Basso, who has repeatedly insisted that the stages to Alpe de Pampeago and the Stelvio are where he can win the Giro.
“I already know the Stelvio and the Mortirolo,” Rodriguez said, before joking: “I don’t know Alpe de Pampeago, but we climb it twice in the stage on Friday…”
On terrain immortalised by Alessandro Manzoni’s canonical novel I promessi sposi, Rodriguez may well have written an important chapter in the story of this Giro, but just like the famous tale of Renzo and Lucia, there is the sense that there could yet be plenty of twists to come.
“We’ll see in the coming week,” Rodriguez said. “Fortunately for now, I’m in front and that’s what I’m thinking about.”