Katusha say Joaquim Rodriguez has recovered from his high-speed crash in Amstel Gold Race, which led to his third abandon in four years in the Dutch Classic, and will be gunning for his second victory in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
"He had a rough time of it because he crashed, he was dizzy and hit his head when he went down, his neck and shoulders were both a bit painful," Katusha sports director José Azevedo told Cyclingnews.
"But little by little he's been in good shape and today [Tuesday] he was fine. He's recovered from the crash, and he'll be fine."
Rodriguez has rarely been lucky in Amstel, after crashing badly in 2013 and again in 2014, and as Azevedo put it with a wry smile, "the truth is, it's really not his race."
"It's good preparation for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the truth is we always start that race hoping that nothing will happen to Joaquim.”
In 2013 Rodriguez had a bad fall in Amstel Gold Race and had to abandon but was at least able to recover well for the rest of the season. In the 2014 Amstel Gold Race, where the Katusha pro crashed again and broke two ribs, the accident ushered in one of the most difficult periods of his entire career.
Another less serious fall in the 2014 Fleche Wallonne was followed by a very bad crash for Rodriguez on stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia - which he started still nursing his Amstel inuries and broke a third rib as well as his thumb - at the foot of the ascent of Monte Cassino, alongside Katusha team-mates Angel Vicioso and Gianapaolo Caruso. In what proved to be a black day for the Russian squad, all three had to abandon.
Last year Rodriguez ran fourth in Flèche Wallonne prior to taking third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He won the race in 2012, and was runner-up in 2011 and again in 2010. Although Valverde won in Fleche last year, Rodriguez is also 'defending champion' in the Mur de Huy, in that he won the Tour de France stage there last summer, the last time a pro race went up the climb.
"He’ll be our sole leader for Flèche," Azevedo said, "although we can't forget Jurgen Van Der Broeck, either. But in terms of results, form and the kind of finish Fleche has, this is all about Joaquim."
For the Ardennes Classics, Rodriguez is, as ever, staying in the 'lucky room' at the hotel Malpertuus in Belgium, owned by BMC director Valerio Piva and where Katusha will be guests all this week. Rodriguez is sharing with Angel Vicioso.
The so-called 'lucky guest room', number 11 at the hotel, is where numerous riders have slept overnight prior to victory in races in Belgium. Amongst them are Rodriguez himself in 2012 in Fleche Wallonne, 2011 Fleche winner Dani Moreno, as well as Mario Cipollini in 2002, prior to triumphing in the World's at nearby Zolder, double Liege victor Michele Bartoli in the 1990s and fellow-Italian Moreno Argentin, who racked up four triumphs in the same Classic. "Let's hope either Joaquim or Angel win tomorrow," Azevedo said with a smile.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.