Veteran Joaquim "Purito" Rodriguez (Katusha) is well known for his explosive uphill attacks, and even if Formigal's grinding, long slopes were hardly the best terrain for it, the Spaniard lit the fuse when he made the first of the blizzard of attacks that put race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in trouble for the first time on the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
"Of the three days in the Pyrenees, this was the stage that suited me the least, and the time I've got back is very little," said Rodriguez, whose time gain of 28 seconds on today's stage 16 nonetheless put him at 2:29 down overall.
"It almost, almost, doesn't really count, but at least today I've seen the sun shine a little."
Asked why he thought Nibali had cracked, Rodriguez said, "That's easy, it was a really hard stage, very fast, and way ahead of the fastest time anybody expected." Even though this was a mountain stage where maximum pre-race estimates were of 38kph, the stage finally averaged 39.406kph, with the first two hours averaging 46kph and 44kph.) "You could see it in everybody's faces, we're all tired."
When it was repeated to him that the stage was never expected to produce attacks of that ferocity on the leader, Rodriguez said "Well, in cycling two and two don't make four. "Astana, too, had their work cut out, he pointed out. "The whole stage was crazy, groups of 15 to 20 riders breaking away. It was very difficult to control, and this wasn't the third day in the mountains" - always supposed to be the one where riders run into severe difficulties - "it was the fourth day in the mountains if you include the stage to Castelldefels, which was really hard.The whole race this year is exhausting. We're all really tired."
He was very doubtful, too, that Nibali would finally crack completely. "If this was his bad day, then there's nothing doing. He's really strong, very tough and he's won on really hard climbs, like the ones there are to come in Asturias."
Asked if someone could "do a Fuente Dé" - which is now Spanish cycling shorthand for attacking like Contador did last year on the climb to Fuente De, turning the race around in the most unexpected of fashions - Rodriguez grinned a shade bitterly, given that he lost the race lead that day to Contador and replied, "Here we go again with Fuente Dé. In fact, my own objective is to win on the Angliru."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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