Whilst Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha Team) saw Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) disappear up the road on the ascent of the Cotos, the Vuelta a Espana’s final climb on stage 20, his first reaction was that he did not have a problem. It was only a few kilometres later that he realised there was a problem.
Second overall with 67 seconds advantage on the Polish rider before stage 20’s start, Rodriguez felt confident that with so little distance left, the situation was under control. “I initially thought I couldn’t lose so much time even though I couldn’t follow them,” Rodriguez said, “but then the seconds started stacking up and they found teammates ahead” - Quintana most notably from Andrey Amador - “to help increase the gap. 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50…”
As Quintana and Majka merged with a group of riders from the breakaway and crossed the line 2:42 down on stage winner Ruben Plaza, the clock was ticking for Rodriguez. Finally, though, he crossed the line at 3:37, driving away at the head of a group containing Fabio Aru (Astana), with the Spanish TV reporters snapping at his heels and falling over themselves to be the first to tell Purito the Katusha veteran had saved his second place ahead of Majka - who moved up from fourth - by just 12 seconds.
Purito’s battle to save his second place was effectively a war within the greater war between Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Fabio Aru (Astana), in which the Spanish star returned to the Vuelta podium for the first time since he took third in 2012. “I had great help from [teammate] Alberto Losada, who’s done a really good race and Astana were working hard too,” he reflected.
Did he ever think about attacking Aru? “I dreamed about it when I was on the massage table,” the 36-year-old said with a grin. “But finishing second overall, a stage win and a spell in the lead plus two jerseys (the points and the combined) assuming there’s no last minute changes in those classifications, this is still a spectacular result for me.”
He had words of sympathy for Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), having being in a similar predicament to the Dutchman in 2012, when he lost the Vuelta thanks to a last-week ambush by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“It’s very hard, losing the jersey so late on, I remember what happened with Alberto at Fuente De [the stage where Contador ambushed the Spaniard], but at least he’s lost it when he’s much younger than I was. “
“He has to be very proud of what he’s done. He was lacking a bit of team support at the end, with one more rider in the mountains he might have come through. But in any case he has to think about what he can do in the future.”
“The key for Astana was to isolate him, put him in a situation that was just too hard for him to handle. I think both riders deserved to win.”