With five days of racing left to go in the 2012 Vuelta a España and the worst of the mountain stages behind him, leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) said in a rest day press conference that he has an “very good chance” of winning the Vuelta.
“There’s still four important days left and that’s why we’ve got to pay attention to the slightest detail,” Rodríguez said.
“But we’ve taken an important step forward, there’s not much time difference between the two of us [Rodríguez is 28 seconds ahead of Alberto Contador) but it’s in my favour and if we go on like this, then I’ve got a very good chance of winning the Vuelta.”
“In the last week there are always some dangerous situations, attacks when you least expect them, and the Bola del Mundo could be a surprise.”
Asked if he was in the best condition of his career, Rodríguez said: “I’m in a very good place right now, and I have to thank my team for that. They know how to keep me calm and after the Giro they told me to focus on the Vuelta and on the Vuelta alone. I did a lot of work on my time trialling, and I suffered so much in the Tour of Burgos I told them I had no idea what kind of condition I’d have in the Vuelta, but here I am.”
Rodríguez did not agree with Contador’s repeated comments that he needed more racing to be in top condition, pointing out that Contador had gone to the Tour of the Algarve in February and won it after eight months of not racing following the previous Tour de France.
Nor did he think he was destroying Contador’s morale by matching him on the climb: “I don’t think so, he’s still got his last card to play [the Bola del Mundo] and he’s been in more difficult circumstances than this one. He doesn’t have to feel bad, and I just hope I’m up to his level there.”
“It’s not easy to follow Alberto at the speed he goes when he attacks on the climbs, logically if it was the other way round I’d go a lot slower. Often I’ve suffered a lot to get on his wheel when he accelerates, and the worst time was at Lagos de Covandonga, when Alejandro [Valverde-Movistar] and Nairo [Quintana-Movistar] didn’t follow him and I was left hanging there for a moment.”
“But in any case, all I think when he attacks is if I can hold on like grim death, I will, even if I blow afterwards. There’s no point in me doing anything but winning now, I’ve finished on enough podiums already.”
Rodríguez recognised that he had matured as a rider in the last few years, because “it’s different racing when you’re 24 and when you’re 33. When you’re in your thirties, it’s easier to accept that your holidays are when you got to go and train at altitude, for example.”
Nor will he stop after the Vuelta, as Rodríguez is taking aim at the world championships and Tour of Lombardy: “I want to stay focussed on my racing and the Worlds this year has a good route for me. Other favourites, from what I can see here in the Vuelta, will be the Dutch and Philippe Gilbert (BMC).”
Beyond that, next year, he may do the Tour de France, but as he pointed out “it depends on the route. I have to look at that very carefully. But if I could get a podium finish on all three Tours, or lead all three, that would something very special for my career.”
For now, though, his main goal is the Vuelta, and fighting off any sense of an inferiority complex when it comes to taking on Alberto Contador, rated by many, included Rodríguez, as the best stage racer in the world.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Rodriguez said, “my tactic is not to think about tomorrow. To be perfectly honest, if I seem so calm about what I’m doing it’s because I keep on expecting Contador to beat me. Finishing second behind Contador isn’t like finishing a race behind Johnny Nobody, it’s a great achievement.”
But now, perhaps, he could beat Contador. “It would be something very important. He’s never lost a Grand Tour except the Tour de France in 2011 when he had a couple of bad crashes. Beating him would be something spectacular.”
As for what he envies the most about Contador, “it’s his mental strength. Just a few minutes after a mountain stage has finished, he’s got the ability to say ‘tomorrow, Purito, I’ll be back and there’s more of this to come.’ I admire that.”
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