Twice a podium finisher in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was in an upbeat mood when he talked to reporters on Saturday about his possibilities of taking a third Monument to add to his two Tours of Lombardy.
The reasons for his good mood are multiple: Rodriguez has not had the difficult build-up to La Doyenne of 2013 and 2014, when crashes at Amstel Gold Race meant he was not firing on all cylinders. That said, Rodriguez , who has often said the Ardennes Week is his favourite part of the season, still took second in 2013 behind Dan Martin.
“Amstel wasn’t my best day, and I wasn’t able to finish off Flèche Wallonne in the way I wanted to because when we reached my favourite point for attacking I was boxed in,” Rodriguez, who won Flèche in 2012 and who finished fourth last Wednesday, said. “In any case Alejandro [Valverde] was the strongest and he would have won regardless.
“But on the plus side, my legs are feeling really good and that is extra motivation for Sunday. It’s the last chance for me to do something.”
Having won the Vuelta al País Vasco in dramatic style, taking the overall win and two stages, Rodriguez is feeling upbeat, but insisted that “Alejandro and Kwiatkowski are the two big favourites here.”
“People [in particular Vincenzo Nibali – ed.] are talking about how they want to make the race harder this year, but for me it’s a tough race in any case, and you have to try and conserve your strength for as long as possible.”
Rodriguez smiles when it’s pointed out that he has finally made it to Liège with no injuries. “The year I’m in best shape is the year when people say I haven’t done that much [in the Ardennes], so let’s see what happens on Sunday.” He also wished Philippe Gilbert a speedy recovery from his Flèche Wallonne crash, saying he hoped the Belgian would be able to race on Sunday. “It would be a pity if he couldn’t race here at 100 percent on home soil. He deserves to be able to do that.
“The pressure here is always the same, with or without the Pais Vasco win, but I do feel a lot more confident now.” He added that the changed race route “has made it a lot harder, there are no breaks in the action. Before you used to have a bit of a space before the Redoute to catch your breath, now the climbs just keep on coming. It’s going to do a lot more damage.”
After the Ardennes, Rodriguez has a break before returning at the Critérium du Dauphiné and then going on to the Tour de France.