Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is not ruling himself out of the running for Tour de France victory although the Catalan has acknowledged that Chris Froome (Sky) is the favourite to carry the maillot jaune to Paris.
Rodriguez is making only the second Tour appearance of his career – he finished 7th in 2010 – but at 34 years of age and after finishing on the podium of both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España last year, he is hopeful of making a big impact in July.
“I’m not giving up on it,” Rodriguez told AS of his chances of Tour victory. “Last year I was second in the Giro and third in the Vuelta and I could have won both of them. I am a mature rider. I know it’s complicated but I won’t rule myself out before the race begins.”
Rodriguez does not believe his lack of Tour experience will count against him, particularly given that he competed against his chief rivals at the Vuelta last year. “In the end the rivals will be the same – Froome, Contador, Valverde,” he said. “Sure, the Tour is more stressful than any other race, but it’s the same for everyone.”
In 2011 and 2012, Rodriguez opted to race the Giro and the Vuelta but he explained that the relative lack of time trialling miles on this year’s Tour parcours persuaded him to return to France. There are two individual time trials on the route – the 33km test to Mont-Saint-Michel on stage 11 and the 32km stage to Chorges on the final Wednesday of the race.
“This year there aren’t long, flat time trials where you have to go at 55kph. The two time trials are shorter and hillier, especially the second one,” said Rodriguez, who is mindful, however, that he must perform better against the clock than he did at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, where he lost almost three minutes to Froome in a 32.5km time trial. “That was fatal and there is no excuse. I was back to being the worst Purito in the time trial. The only consolation is that the terrain won’t be as flat at the Tour.”
Although he lost the Giro in the final time trial last year, Rodriguez did make strides in the discipline in 2012 and he travelled to the Silverstone track earlier this year to work further on his time trialling position, albeit with mixed results. “I didn’t adapt to the new position, my body was too far forward. At the Tour, I’ll go back to my old position with some small changes,” he said.
While Rodriguez warned that “something will happen before we get to the Alps,” he believes that the high mountains will prove decisive at the Tour, although on the evidence of the Dauphiné, it will be difficult to beat Froome.
“He’s the strongest by far and he has a great team. At the Dauphiné, at difficult times, there were always five or six teammates at his side. There will be several of us looking for them to fail – Contador, Valverde, Schleck, Van Den Broeck, Evans, me – but if it’s like the Dauphiné, then it will be very complicated.”