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Rodríguez: Horner and Nibali are strongest at Vuelta a Espana

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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) powers to the finish line on the Collada de la Gallina climb to place 4th on the stage

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) powers to the finish line on the Collada de la Gallina climb to place 4th on the stage (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Arroyo, Rodriguez and Valverde

Arroyo, Rodriguez and Valverde (Image credit: Sirotti)

Me falta, me falta (I'm missing something, I'm missing something) was how Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) described his current state of form when he crossed the line after stage 15 of the Vuelta a España.

Together with Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Thibaut Pinot (, Purito was the only rider really to try to unsettle the current overall classification on the final section of stage 15's six-hour ride through the Pyrenees.

And whilst Roche staged a longer distance attack over the Porte de Bales, Rodriguez made several short digs in the final climb to Peyragudes. Roche just managed to stay clear, but Rodriguez was hunted down each time and had to settle for seventh on the stage and no change to his fourth place overall position on general classification.

Vincenzo Nibali, an ever up-beat but realistic Rodriguez said, is looking increasingly invulnerable, with the Spaniard describing the Italian as "very strong, doing really well. He and Horner are the strongest, then me and Alejandro [Valverde] are on another level, just behind.

"I had my moment of glory today," he said - an ironic reference to his repeated short, sharp attacks, "but I can't do it. I'm trying but I'm missing something, I'm missing something. Me falta, me falta."

His objectives, Rodriguez says now "are a podium or a stage win." He almost snorted in disbelief when told that Valverde said after stage 15 he believed that Nibali was ‘looking a little weaker'. "He says that? Well I didn't see that," he responded. "He's doing really well."

Last year's winner on the Peyragudes in the Tour, Alejandro Valverde, said after the stage he had recovered fully from his ‘fainting fit' on the descent of the Ordino on Saturday, brought about by the extreme cold. And even if he said he thought Nibali was "suffering, but clearly in good shape," when Valverde was asked what his objectives are from now on, the 2012 Vuelta runner-up and 2009 winner said he was currently "very pleased with the podium and we'll see what happens." - hardly an all out declaration of war on Nibali.

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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, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.