After spending the last six days keeping the polka-dot jersey safe for Tour de France race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), Joaquim Rodríguez will finally get to wear it on his own merit. Ever since his general classification chances took a hit earlier in the race the Katusha rider has had his eyes set on the jersey.
Rodríguez has been noticeably saving energy in the last few days, finishing over 20 minutes down in Wednesday’s stage. With a total of 41 points available on stage 18, he used said energy to secure his place in the break. The Spaniard mopped up points on the first five climbs of the day but a mistake on the Col du Glandon, the one with the biggest reward available at the top, saw him miss out on the points and a potential third stage win.
“It was a hard day but I felt good and immediately went on the attack with the goal to take maximum points,” Rodríguez said after the stage. “I think that it could have been a day to fight for the victory but before the Glandon I didn’t go so well."
“In the flat part at the feed zone before the Glandon I had a bad moment. It was fast and I couldn’t take my feed bag so I paid for it on the Glandon. It was my goal to take those 25 points or even the stage win but it was over for me at that point.”
That mistake cost him dear and it is tight at the top of the standings with stage 18 winner Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) on equal points with the Spaniard. Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), despite a coming together with a motorbike, is just four points behind. The two remaining summit finishes provide 70 points between them and with two ascents of the Col de la Croix de Fer, there is still everything to play for.
Rodríguez was in contention for the polka-dot jersey at last year’s Tour de France. The Katusha rider was put into the team as a late addition, following a tough spring that resulted in his abandonment of the Giro d’Italia with three broken ribs – two of which occurred during the Ardennes Classics the previous month. After starting positively, he faded in the final week and it was Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka who would take the jersey in Paris.
It is a much stronger Rodríguez going into the final mountain stages and he’s not willing to surrender the maillot à pois. “I won’t give up. There are two mountain stages to go and I will attack again. Fuglsang and Bardet will be motivated, too, but I will fight for it,” said Rodríguez. “We will have a big fight to get in the break so that we can get the maximum possible points.”