Vuelta al Páis Vasco defending champion Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) says that after a more difficult start to the season than he had expected, his condition is steadily improving and he hopes to be able to fight for the outright victory in the Basque race, which starts Monday.
"I wasn't going brilliantly in the Volta a Catalunya" - which he has won twice - Rodriguez told Cyclingnews on Saturday morning before starting the GP Miguel Indurain, which he won in 2010. "But I hope that I will be back to my top level soon and fighting for the overall win in the Vuelta al País Vasco."
The route this year of the Itzulia, as the Vuelta al País Vasco is also known, is one of the toughest in years, and Rodríguez argues: "It's going to be a very hard race, particularly if the bad weather that's forecast for next week kicks in. That time trial on the last day, with the descent off the Mount Arrate, could be really something if there's rain."
Rivals for the Basque overall victory this year, he says with a smile, are “too many to count. From Samu [Samuel Sánchez, BMC Racing Team] who was really peaking as the Volta continued, to Sergio [Henao - Team Sky], Alberto Contador [Tinkoff], Nairo Quintana [Movistar]. There's a really high level this year."
A disappointing 11th overall on home soil in the Volta a Catalunya, Rodríguez says that he was not at his best because of the knock-on effect of an uneven start to the season. "I couldn't race most of the Tour of the Algarve" - abandoning after racing only one full stage with a sore throat and fever - "then there was that crash [on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico] and they cancelled that mountain stage and I couldn't be at 100 per cent either.
"I hope I'll start to have the kind of form I've had in the past at Catalunya on Monday in the Vuelta al País Vasco and then onto into the Classics."
Rodriguez will, as usual, make the Ardennes Classics the high point of his first part of the season, with Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège - where he was third last year - his key races.