Cataldo produces masterpiece at Vuelta a España

After years of knocking at the door of success, Dario Cataldo’s win on stage 16 of the Vuelta a España, his first in a Grand Tour, represents a key step up for the 27-year-old from Lanciano.

A winner of a brace of stages in the Tour de L’Avenir in his rookie year back in 2007 (where he also won the points jersey and the King of the Mountains) and overall winner at the under-23 Giro in 2006, Cataldo’s career has been a little patchy, with impressive wins like the GP Beghelli but long stretches without top results as well.

A keen painter (the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team bus is apparently full of drawings and painting materials whenever he’s on a race), 2012 has been anything but a blank canvas for the Italian. Twelfth in the 2012 Giro, his best Grand Tour result to date, and victory in the Italian national time trial championship has now been followed up with a stunning win in the toughest single stage of the 2012 Vuelta after a 130 kilometre-long break over three mountain passes.

“It was a very tough final kilometre and I did make one mistake for that final climb, which was to have a 26-tooth sprocket on the bike when I should have had a 28.”

“But even if that made it a bit tougher than I’d have liked, I still got through it. It’s another landmark for me in what’s been a great year.”

His early attack with De Gendt was, he said, something he later came close to regretting, “because I heard early on the last climb that Saxo Bank were giving it some stick behind and I was worried I wouldn’t have the strength to stay away.”

His objective in the Vuelta, he said, “had always been a stage win, I’d never thought about the overall. I’d been chasing breaks for two days, and I crashed yesterday [Sunday] so I wasn’t feeling too optimistic, but I finally managed to get away.”

Asked about why his general classification options rarely worked out in Grand Tours when he was clearly a gifted all rounder, Cataldo said “for some reason I always start slowly, I have a hard time getting good form.”

“I need to improve my preparation [for Grand Tours] to get it right.”

“As my build-up for here, I did the Tour de L’Ain and then the Clasica San Sebastian because I wanted a good third week. And it was a secret, but after this I’ll be looking for a good ride in Il Lombardia [the Tour of Lombardy].”

Asked if he thought that stages like today’s with 4,500 metres of climbing and a really tough final ascent were too hard on the riders, Cataldo disagreed.

“It was an extremely hard climb, particularly the end, but we are used to this. Just look at the Zoncolan [in the Giro], it forms part of the Giro and part of a Grand Tour. It’s not excessive.”

In any case, he has a firm favourite for the final victory in Madrid: “Joaquim Rodríguez, and I’m not just saying that because he’s leading, I said it when I saw the route of the Vuelta when it was published in January and I said it again in an interview before the Vuelta start.

“I always had him as the top favourite, he’s riding strongly and intelligently, and this route is made to his measure. I think he’s going to win it.”

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