In the overall lead for the fifth day running of the Vuelta a España and close to netting a second stage win at Collada de la Gallina, Spain’s Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha) has nonetheless made a brutally honest assessment of his chances of overall victory after Saturday’s stage: they are, he says, limited.
“On paper, [Chris] Froome and Alberto [Contador] are going to be stronger than me in the time trial [39. 4 kilometres, on Wednesday],” Rodriguez said afterwards. “For me to win the Vuelta I’m going to have to ride the time trial of my life and then they will both have to have a really bad day.”
“Alejandro [Valverde, fourth overall] and I are more one-day riders who can win Grand Tours – I came close in the Giro and Alejandro has won the Vuelta back in 2009. But these guys [Froome and Alberto] are specialists in the Grand Tours, really good time triallists, and we’re more for the world championships or one-day classics.”
Rodríguez knows what it is like to lose major Tours in time trials – he relinquished the overall lead of the 2012 Giro on the final day in Milan and the 2010 Vuelta at Peñafiel during the race’s final test against the clock. In the Giro this May, he fell to second overall and in the Vuelta, to fourth.
As to what conclusions can really be drawn from the first eight action-packed stages of the Vuelta, Rodríguez said that “nothing is decided. Today we’ve got a bit of time on Froome, the other day he and I got some time on Contador. Nobody seems to be really ahead of the rest.”
In fact, all four riders in the top four had a difficult moment at one point or another on the Collada – Rodriguez at the bottom, then Valverde, next Froome when Contador attacked, and finally Contador himself at the very top.
“Today was another insanely fast day, there were people in the bunch yelling that we should slow down, but nobody did. Every day it seems like we’re going faster,” Rodriguez said.
“We’d been going so fast that I wasn’t feeling so great early on and I slipped back a little, but then could get back on.
“Alejandro [Valverde] has got that sort of class that enables him to get the win at the last minute and which maybe I haven’t, he knows how to hit the accelerator exactly when he needs to win. It didn’t surprise me that he won, I know what he’s capable of doing.”
‘Purito’ lives for part of the year in Andorra, and he said it was “something special to be able to ride along streets where normally I go training and see there were people I knew out there, cheering me on. It was one of my most special days on the bike.”
“It’ll also be very special to go into Catalunya [Rodriguez’s home region – ed.] and down to [Catalan capital] Barcelona wearing the red jersey of Vuelta leader. That’s going to be incredible.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.