Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) could not have asked for a more straightforward start to his leadership of the Vuelta a Espana after Wednesday's incident-free ride through predominantly flat terrain around Logroño, but he warned that it would not be so easy on Thursday's summit finish.
Although a noisy demonstration against government cuts which took place just metres away from the finish made for a deafening background to post-stage interviews, and the heat once again soared into the high 30s for a fifth straight day on the Vuelta, Rodríguez’s message was clear.
“It was a very straightforward stage,” Rodríguez said, “there was just one rider ahead [Javier Chacon - Andalusia] in the break and the poor guy was suffering out there in that heat.”
“The last lap was fast, but that was the only tense moment.”
"Purito" said that he had talked over stage four's incident-packed finale with Alejandro Valverde - who lost the lead to Rodríguez after crashing when an echelon formed - by phone on Tuesday evening and that the two had ironed out any issues.
“I’m sure as today [Wednesday] was a quiet day, yesterday’s [Tuesday’s] events will have a lot of space in tomorrow’s [Thursday’s] newspapers, but we’ve each explained our version of what happened and that’s all there is to it,” Rodríguez said.
Rodríguez predicted, however, that tomorrow’s [Thursday's] stage to Fuerte de Rapitan in Jaca would be a very different story to Wednesday’s stage. And the 2012 Fleche Wallone winner warned that he has every intention of trying to increase his currently very narrow overall advantage of just one second on his rivals to something more solid on the short but very steep climb.
“We sent my teammate Angel Vicioso”- who lives in nearby Zaragoza - “to take a look at it, and he says it's good for me,” Rodríguez said.
“I think it’ll be possible to open up a gap on my rivals there. I would like to gain time on them. And it’ll make a big difference if you’re fourth or 45th at the bottom on a claim with such a narrow start.”
Meanwhile Germany’s John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) was predictably more than delighted with securing his second stage in four days. He, too, said the entire day had gone very well, and not just the final result.
“We wanted as few guys as possible in the early break, and as it was only one got away, which was ideal. Then we kept the race under control for the last lap.”
“My teammates Koen de Kort and Simon Geschke did a brilliant job in the last few kilometres and I was in the right place for the final sprint.”
“That last sprint for the line was really fast, I’d be curious to see how quick it was, but I didn’t expect to win by such a big margin over Bennati.”
Asked about his chances of taking the points jersey all the way to Madrid, Degenkolb was notably more optimistic about his chances compared with after Sunday’s victory in Viana, even though he preached caution.
“We’re still on the fifth day,” Degenkolb, who now has a 21-point advantage over closest pursuer Allan Davis (Astana), pointed out.
“But it’s still a big dream to win a Grand Tour classification like this one. I’ll battle for every point that is on offer.”
However, the German was pessimistic about his chances of taking a back-to-back win tomorrow in Fuerte de Rapitán, pointing at Rodríguez - waiting at the back of the press room to be interviewed - and saying with a smile, “I think it’s more a finish for him.”
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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.