Joaquim Rodriguez lines up among the favourites for the Vuelta a España and he has acknowledged that a Grand Tour victory would mark the difference between a good palmares and a “magnificent” one.
The Katusha leader has already finished on the podium in each of the three Grand Tours – as well as triumphing in the Tour of Lombardy and Flèche Wallonne – but he has yet to win a three-week stage race.
“I know that winning a Grand Tour is very complicated but I have shown that it is within my capabilities,” Rodriguez told AS. “I’m aiming for it at this Vuelta. That will be the biggest challenge that faces me before I retire. It would be the difference between going from a good palmares, which I have now, to a magnificent one.”
Rodriguez has endured heartbreak in the major stage races in 2012, when he missed out on victory at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta, finishing second and third respectively. He led the Giro into the final time trial in Milan only to concede the maglia rosa to Ryder Hesjedal, while he lost the overall lead in the final week of the Vuelta after a dramatic day of racing to Fuente Dé.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Rodriguez said. “In each race, I think I was the strongest rider, with the most powerful team. These are things that hurt, but they also make you a more mature rider when it comes to facing adversity. I’m 34 years old, and those were two chances I shouldn’t have missed out on.
“By now, I could have two Grand Tour victories already and I could be aiming for a third, but the reality is that I’m looking for my first.”
In contrast to his disappointments in 2012, Rodriguez was happy to celebrate his third place finish at this year’s Tour de France. Although he confessed to some post-Tour fatigue, he is pleased with how his Vuelta training has progressed. The Catalan has opted not to race between the Tour and the Vuelta, which starts in Galicia on Saturday.
“I feel good now but for a week and a half after the race I was very tired and it was hard to recover,” Rodriguez said. “Things improved after that. I didn’t celebrate too much and I was able to do some good training.”