In 2012 Joaquim Rodriguez finished a close second to Ryder Hesjedal at the Giro d'Italia and was third overall in the Vuelta a Espana after leading the race for 12 stages. He also topped the UCI WorldTour ranking after a consistently successful season, carrying the Katusha team.
The pocket-sized Purito, nickname after a make of Spanish cigar, has opted for a different set of goals in 2013, targeting overall victory at the Tour de France.
Such was his determination to have a shot at the Tour de France, he even threatened to quit the Katusha team if they missed out on a Tour spot due to their licence problems with the UCI. At 34, the Catalan climber believes the 100th edition of the Tour could be his last shot at victory.
Rodriguez has not ridden the Tour de France since 2010 when he finished seventh. It is also only his second Tour appearance. Yet as the race is about to begin in Corsica, Rodriguez is confident he has made the right decision.
"I think I'm at the same level of form as I was last year, if not even better. I'm feeling good. I worked well after the Dauphiné. I like the route this year and so let's see what verdict the race comes up with," he told Cyclingnews.
Rodriguez showed his ability early in the season and in the Classics, finishing second behind Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) in both the Volta a Catalunya – his home stage race, and at Liège - Bastogne - Liège.
"My season has never started as well," he argued.
"I won in Oman, in Tirreno and I had a good Volta a Catalunya. I crashed at the Amstel Gold Race but I was second at Liège - Bastogne - Liège and sixth at Flèche-Wallonne that my teammate Dani Moreno won. Hopefully my season will continue to go well at the Tour de France."
Aggressive race strategy in the mountains
Rodriguez is infamous for his poor time trialing. His pure climber's physique costs him dearly against the clock, despite work to improve his position and time trialing skills. However, he is convinced that the mountains and not the time trials will decide this year's Tour de France, and he promises to be aggressive on the climbs.
"For sure I'm not a great time trialist and so I've got to try things in the mountains. That's the way I'm going to ride. I'm happy with the Tour route this year. It's great for me, there are plenty of opportunities," he said.
"Time trials are a handicap for me. But there's only really one time trial this year. The second one to Embrun in the Alps has two climbs in it and we'll probably use normal road bikes. So that means my only problem is the Mont Saint Michel time trial. We've been to check it out and it didn't seem like a Tour de France time trial. It's only 33km and the first part is tough, so I think I can limit my losses."
Rodriguez has been tipped to finish on the final podium in Paris, perhaps behind Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) if the race follows a predictable partner and the riders' form of 2012 results is repeated. However Purito knows more than many that the final results in Grand Tours do not often reflect the strength or ability of the riders in the race.
"I just want to do my best. My goal is to head home from Paris knowing that I've done my very best if that's fourth, fifth, third or first," he said with grace and a sense of fair play.
"I don't want the Tour to end like last year's Vuelta. I finished third but I think I could have won it. That's a bad feeling to take. I'd rather finished fourth, off the podium in Paris but knowing it's the result I deserve. It means I can return home proud of myself."
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