Although Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) can claim a second successive WorldTour title at the Tour of Lombardy this coming weekend, his near-miss at last Sunday’s world championships road race continues to dominate the headlines this week.
With both Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde in the winning break of four riders, Spain looked set to claim a first world title since Oscar Freire in Verona in 2004, only for Rui Costa (Portugal) to upset the applecart by catching and out-sprinting Rodriguez in the finale.
“To have the world title so close and not win it, you don’t forget that,” Rodriguez told Marca. “I had the legs to win and I looked for victory, but we didn’t win even though Alejandro and I were the strongest.”
Rodriguez made two attacks after the winning move formed on the penultimate climb of Fiesole, first slipping away alone on the slippery descent, and then punching his way clear – seemingly decisively – on a short rise 3 kilometres from the finish. However, when Rui Costa jumped after Rodriguez within sight of the red kite, Valverde opted to mark Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) rather than track his Movistar teammate.
Spanish national coach Javier Minguez criticised Valverde for his failure to check Rui Costa’s move, but the intricacies Spanish tactics have been debated in some detail in the days following the Worlds.
“I’m reading things in social networks that aren’t real,” Rodriguez said. “With three kilometres to go, it was he [Valverde] who said ‘Attack, and I’ll leave a gap.’ He said it clearly, and thanks to him, the group split and I was in front.
“I played my hand, knowing that if they caught me, Valverde would win the sprint because he only had to watch Rui Costa, since I had tired Nibali [by making him chase].
"We had it in our hands. Either I won or he did. We were the strongest and it depended on us."
Rodriguez and Valverde ended the day with the silver and bronze medals, and their body language on the podium and in the post-race press conference betrayed a considerable degree of tension.
Asked if they had cleared the air since, Rodriguez simply said: “After the Worlds, that night we said what we had to say. Every one of us has his own point of view.”
Rodriguez returned to racing at Milano-Torino on Wednesday, finishing 17th, and he lines up at the Tour of Lombardy on Sunday aiming for his second successive win, a triumph that could also lead to a third WorldTour title in four years.
“It will be very complicated because Froome still has 80 points of an advantage. To win, I’d have to finish first or second and he would have to score no points,” Rodriguez. “In any case, even if I don’t win the WorldTour, it wouldn’t be bad to finish the year by winning in Lombardy. After everything that’s happened, I’d like to finish with a good taste in my mouth.”
Should he fail to move ahead of Froome on Sunday, Rodriguez suggested that he could be tempted to line up at the final WorldTour event, the Tour of Beijing. “Yes, I’m not excluding it because winning the WorldTour is very important for me.”