Less than 24 hours after Katusha veteran Joaquim Rodriguez had experienced what he called “a disastrous day” of echelons and crashes during stage 2, the Spanish climber soared away to his first Tour de France stage victory in five years on much friendlier - and more familiar - terrain during stage 3 on the Mur de Huy.
In a press release on Sunday ‘Purito’ roundly described stage 2, where he had lost contact with the Froome-Contador led echelon as a ‘disaster. We’ve had everything against us. First there was a puncture and then when I managed to get back on, I had two big crashes. I hurt my elbow, my hip and my knee - which is what worries me the most.”
Following his uneven Tour de France performance last year, where - after crashing out of the Giro - he made an unsuccessful defence of a King of the Mountains classification, it was certainly an unauspicious start.
Rodriguez was in a very different mood on Monday night, however, and it was all thanks to his taking an impressive victory on the Mur de Huy ahead of Chris Froome. Already a winner of Flèche Wallonne in 2012, this time round Rodriguez took his first triumph since the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this year.
After Gent-Wevelgem winner and Katusha teammate Luca Paolini had softened up the climb with a driving acceleration at the foot of the climb, Rodriguez attacked in a very similar point to three years ago in Flèche Wallonne when he attacked two thirds of the way up the ‘Mur’, surging up the left hand side of the road around 500 metres to go.
“It’s a finish I know well but the Tour is a lot different to Flèche Wallonne, it’s faster and the approach was more nervous, and we had fewer climbs beforehand,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t want to get boxed in and wait too long like I did this April just past so I went a bit earlier. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.”
The Mur de Huy is followed on Tuesday by a stage over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix to Cambrai, yet despite his victory, Rodriguez had reservations about whether the routes of the Classics truly had a place in the Tour de France. The mass crash midway through the stage – and the potential for more on the pavé on Tuesday – highlighted the dangers.
“I love the Classics but I like the difference between Classics and Grand Tours too. Races like Roubaix and Flèche exist for the people who love those races but I’m not a big fan of the Tour having the Mur de Huy or the cobbles on the course,” Rodriguez said. “It provokes more stress and more crashes. Maybe that’s better for spectators and the race is more spectacular but I think the race should be won on legs alone and not affected by circumstances like that.”
Rodriguez’ stage win sees him move up to 18th place overall, two minutes behind new leader Chris Froome and he struck an optimistic note about his prospects of a high overall finish in Paris.
“I knew my condition was very good before today, I just had a puncture and crash yesterday,” he said. “I’m confident I’ll have a good Tour but Paris is a long way off and 1000 things could happen. Tomorrow could be dangerous but after that, the Pyrenees and Alps are very tough, which I like. But a lot of things could happen.”