Katusha sports director Dimitri Konychev said that he is not ruling out the possibility of Joaquim Rodríguez deliberately relinquishing the Vuelta a Espana lead to riders who do not represent long-term threats overall. Such a move would help keep his team as rested as possible during the three-week Grand Tour..
"It would be better to have the lead in the third week," Konychev told Cyclingnews. "If we can let some other team take over and handle the pressure of leading for a bit, then that'd be good."
After Rodriguez finished fourth in the 2010 Vuelta and second in this year's Giro, he is "gunning for the win here. We're not fighting for a podium place. We've got [Alberto] Contador and [Chris] Froome up there. But Rodriguez will be there too."
Konychev reflected on Froome's strength at the Tour de France the Olympics. "But he's been up for three months now in top form, and he may get tired mentally."
"Without Wiggins [as team leader], the Vuelta is a big opportunity, but it's also extra pressure. It's the first time he's leading a team in a major Tour. A lot of riders can do really well when they're in somebody's shadow [as Froome was with Wiggins in the Tour and last year's Vuelta], but only a few top, top riders can handle the pressure themselves. We'll see how he does."
Konychev said, "If they [Sky] win here, it'll be an amazing year for them. But I can't see that they've got a rider here who can really open up a big gap on the climbs for Froome and shred the group to 12 or 15 riders."
Konychev noted that Contador does not need such a rider as he can shred on his own. "He is going to keep on attacking Froome so he can get as much time on him before the time trial. It's normal that he's so aggressive. It's also good for Contador to see what he can do against Froome before next year's Tour."
With Froome and Contador apparently so focused on each other, Rodriguez may be able to take advantage. He is in "great condition and has good morale."
Konychev is adamant that Rodriguéz will not lose too much time in what has been his weak point until 2012, the time trials. "Look at what he did in the Giro's time trial this year, he has improved a lot. After the time trial here, then we'll assess our chances."
Konychev praised his star rider. "He knew he made a mistake at Arrate [where he lost the sprint to Valverde], but he's been straight and admitted it. And he's angry. But for some riders, it's good when they're angry, it makes them more motivated and determined and that's Joaquim's case. He's a great champion and a mistake like that makes champions push themselves harder."
Konyshev said that teammate Denis Menchov's role will be a support rider for Rodríguez as he gradually finds stronger form, and that they have no plans for the Russian to try and bounce back into the overall battle. For now, it's all about Rodríguez.
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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.