One Spanish newspaper entitled its Amstel Gold Race preview 'Purito returns to the scene of the crime' and the headline neatly encapsulated Joaquim Rodriguez's situation as he lined up for the start of the Dutch Classic on Sunday.
In 2013 Rodriguez had a bad fall in Amstel and had to abandon but was at least able to recover well for the rest of the season. In last year's Amstel Gold Race, where the Katusha pro crashed again and broke two ribs, the accident ushered in one of the most difficult periods of his entire career. Another less serious fall in the Fleche Wallonne was followed by a very bad crash for Rodriguez on stage six of the Giro d'Italia - which he started still nursing his Amstel injuries and broke a third rib as well as his thumb - at the foot of the ascent of Monte Cassino, along with Katusha teammates Angel Vicioso and Gianpaolo Caruso. In what proved to be a black day for the Russian squad, all three had to abandon.
A very difficult second half of the season followed, and then in March, Rodriguez's bad luck continued to dog him him when he could not start the Volta a Catalunya, where he was defending champion, because of a stomach bug. But in April, with a devastating first-time victory in the Vuelta al País Vasco, Rodriguez has finally got back on track with a vengeance.
As Katusha sports director Jose Azevedo told Cyclingnews, Rodriguez's performance at Vuelta al País Vasco last week has boosted his morale prior to the Ardennes Classics, where Purito already has taken a victory in La Fleche Wallonne, in 2012. The Catalan also has two podium finishes in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and one in Amstel Gold, in 2011, to his name.
"The key thing for Joaquim is to have put all that bad luck behind him," Azevedo said. "He was back to his real level again at País Vasco, and proving that he could fight for wins again was as important as actually winning itself.
"These are very important races for us, and Amstel is a big objective for him. But Liege is the race that suits him the best."
For the Ardennes Classics, Rodriguez is, as ever, staying in the 'lucky room' at the hotel in Belgium owned by BMC director Valerio Piva and where Katusha will be guests all this week. The so-called 'lucky guest room', number 11 at the hotel, is where numerous riders have slept overnight prior to victory in races in Belgium. Amongst them are Rodriguez himself in 2012 in Fleche Wallonne, 2011 Fleche winner Dani Moreno, as well as Mario Cipollini in 2002, prior to triumphing in the World’s at nearby Zolder, double Liege victor Michele Bartoli in the 1990s and fellow-Italian Moreno Argentin, who racked up four triumphs in the same Classic.
"After what happened to Joaquim in 2013 and 2014 in Amstel" - crashing badly and abandoning twice - "I don't know if I'd buy that theory about that room," Azevedo muses. "Sometimes it's worked, sometimes it hasn't." And 2015 could prove, in Rodriguez's case, to be third time lucky in Amstel.
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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 Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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