Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) took a landmark stage win at the 2012 Giro d’Italia on Tuesday that not only means he now has stage wins in all three Grand Tours, but he also has the lead of cycling’s second biggest stage race in his grasp.
At 33, Rodríguez claimed the stage in trademark fashion - the same kind of devastating uphill acceleration that has netted him victories at La Fleche Wallone this season and twice in the Tirreno Adriatico’s infamous Montelupone climb. Today’s win, though, was in Italy’s number one stage race and on a climb that he did not know.
“[Katusha sports director] Valerio Piva warned me that it had two parts and I had better wait for the second half,” the Catalan climber said in a press conference.
“So although I followed that Rabobank climber [Tom Slagter] when he started accelerating, I thought to myself, 'Hey, Valerio knows this race, his experience counts for something', so I hung back and didn't accelerate hard until 200 metres to go. And it was the right choice.”
Fifth in the 2011 Giro [later promoted to fourth after Alberto Contador’s disqualification - ed], and fourth in the 2010 Vuelta, Purito - as he is nicknamed - is focused on at least making the podium in Milan. And he has not ruled out winning. But whilst the armchair theorists amongst the Italian media argued that making such an early bid for the pink jersey was unwise for an overall contender, his reply was “if I lose it, I lose it, but I’ll have at least one maglia rosa in my suitcase.” Not to mention victory number five of this season, starting with a stage win in Tirreno and including two stages of the Tour of the Basque Country, as well as Fleche.
Although his final lunge for the line was a lone effort, Rodríguez paid tribute to his team, too, “for working so hard all the way through the stage. They raced really hard, keeping me in contention and pegging back the break.”
Will his team be there in the Alps and Dolomites too? “I won’t be the only climber, we’ve got [Alberto] Losada, Angel Vicioso and Dani Moreno” - already a winner on last year’s mammoth climb of Sierra Nevada in the Vuelta. “But I’m sure Liquigas and Astana will be on the front, it’s their way of racing. I’m thinking about riders like [expert Polish climber] Sylvester Szymd (Liquigas) in particular.”
Rodríguez has been on a roll all season. Looking back at his palmares he has wins in everything from the Tour of Catalonia to the Spanish Nationals and the tiny Subida a Urkiola hill-climb. But why has he suddenly managed to come so good in Grand Tours?
As Rodriguez points out, that’s not exactly the case, just that in previous teams he’s had other “stronger riders in GC races to work for” - Abraham Olano in ONCE, Valverde in Caisse d’Epargne. He already came close in the Vuelta 2010. Now, finally, as undisputed GC leader at Katusha, it could be Purito’s turn to shine in Italy. But he’s keeping his feet on the ground.
“We have the jersey and we will fight to keep it. But we won’t kill ourselves to do that," he said, with an eye, clearly, on keeping his powder dry for the third week. For now, in any case, at least one maglia rosa will be heading back to Spain after May 27. Will more follow?