After two weeks of sparring, some heavier blows should be landed at the Giro d’Italia as the race enters the Alps on Saturday. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is a narrow leader on the scorecards after the opening rounds, but the Spaniard maintains that the contenders for the maglia rosa can only truly begin to be assessed on the road to Cervinia on stage 14.
“Tomorrow is the first tough climb,” Rodriguez said. “Up to now we haven’t done any especially hard climbs, so until tomorrow it’s hard to know who is going well or who is going badly. My sensations are good right now but that could all change tomorrow.”
Indeed, Rodriguez was at pains to point out that the Saturday’s Alpine stage may yet turn out to be something more than a mere prelude to the anticipated slugging match in the Dolomites next week. With the forecast predicting plummeting temperatures and even snow, the road to Cervinia could prove a tougher proposition than originally envisaged.
“For now, the stage I fear the most is tomorrow’s,” Rodriguez said. “Logically the stage that will make the biggest difference is the Stelvio, but tomorrow is what I have in mind right now, especially because with the possibility of rain and snow, it could be really difficult.”
Rodriguez took hold of the pink jersey by bounding to victory on the hilltop finish at Assisi on stage 10, but he appeared happy to loosen his grip on the overall lead on the road to Sestri Levante two days later. However, a timely stint of pace-making from Liquigas-Cannondale ensured that Rodriguez would carry the jersey and the attendant daily podium protocol into the Alps.
“We’ve got a bit of margin on the defensive a little because we have time on our rivals,” Rodriguez said. “The climbs this weekend aren’t perfect for me as I’d prefer steeper gradients, but there might still be a chance to pick up some more time and I could get to the rest day [on Monday] with the jersey.”
Strangely overlooked by some observers in the build-up to the Giro, Rodriguez’s stint in pink has seen him accepted by all as a genuine contender for final victory, but the man himself believes that his peers never had any doubts about his potential.
“I’m treated the same,” he said. “In the end, we all knew each other before the Giro and I came in here considered among the favourites by some people. And right now, we’re all still there, less than two minutes apart.”
Whether those gaps stretch significantly or not at Cervinia remains to be seen, but after two weeks of building to a crescendo, there is a sense that the race for overall honours is about to begin in earnest. “The climbs aren’t very hard tomorrow, but they are long, so we’ll certainly see something,” Rodriguez said.