By Antonio J. Salmerón
José Joaquín Rojas of Caisse d'Epargne is starting to make a name for himself. The 22 year-old Spaniard has only one win for the year but was in the mix in many of the big races, making himself known amongst the peloton.
It happened this year when one of cycling's patrons called him out. In Germany, Jens Voigt asked, "Eh, you, what is your age? 22! Incredible! You have a great future." "When somebody like him is interested in you, it is a huge honour," José Joaquín Rojas said today to Cyclingnews.
His late brother, Mariano, who raced for Team ONCE under the direction of Manolo Saiz like José Joaquín when he was with teams Liberty Seguros and Astana, encouraged him to take up cycling. Their personal cycling profiles are different, and this is perhaps the reason why José Joaquín eludes any comparison.
"I am fast for the arrivals, mainly if a selection has already been made," he continued. "I confront mountain stages better than the pure sprinters, but I need to someone to help me until the last 500 metres." However, the Caisse d'Epargne sprinter born in Cieza (Murcia) lacks a lead-out man. "It is like [Oscar] Freire at Rabobank, but, at least, he counts on Horrillo and Flecha."
Even so, the balance of his second season, the first with Caisse, "is very positive." He noted, "I have been very close to reaching some important victories." He finished in the top five in more than a twenty stages, and emphasized the victory gained in Torres de Cotillas of the Vuelta a Murcia, where he took the leader's maillot.
In the Spring Classics he was able to mix with the front-runners, and came away with good sensations. "I was able to verify that, in the future, I can fight for the victory... I think so."
The young, promising rider lasted until the last kilometres in Paris-Roubaix, finishing 26th. "That was a beastly experience due to the extreme hardness of the pavé sections, which I already raced in 2006 during my debut. However, it exceeded expectations. ... It takes you a couple of days just to recover."
Rojas also fared well in his first Grand Tour. In the Giro d'Italia he rode strongly until the tenth stage, where he left the race "as it was predicted." He believed in the possibilities of being in the Vuelta a España later in the year. "Not to be there was sort of a deception for me. ... I had demonstrated to be very strong.
"Then I fixed my objectives on a victory in the alternative calendar that was planned for me," he continued. He finished second in two stages of the Tour of Poland.
Not to be in the World Championships in Stuttgart was another small let down. "You always aspire to be at the Worlds, and especially after making the national teams in non-elite categories. I do not know where I could have finished because I was not there. ... It is necessary to continue aspiring."