Sipping on a cup of hot chocolate in the press room as he reviewed the last week's racing, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) recognised that securing his home race, the Volta a Catalunya, for a second time in his career had been anything but straight forward. With a victory margin of just four seconds over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and seven on Tejay van Garderen (BMC) there was no respite from the tension for Rodriguez until the main bunch of some two dozen riders, including the Catalan and his main rivals, powered over the final stage's finish line in a rain-lashed Montjuic Park on Sunday afternoon.
Asked to compare this win with his previous overall victory in the Volta back in 2010, Rodriguez said, "This was harder. The weather was worse and the last stage in 2010 [finishing on a motorbike circuit] was a lot easier, this time round" - with eight ascents of the third category Montjuic Park climb - "anything could happen right up to the last metre. A crash or a puncture at the wrong moment could have been decisive.
"This hasn't been at all easy. There was a big crash early on in the stage today and if I'd been caught up in that it could have been all over.
"The team were really good, though, they were with me all the way to the last minute. And I have to thank the [Volta] organisation, too. They changed the route [of the descent, cutting out two dangerous corners because of the heavy rainfall] and that was something I was glad about, it was something they did for our safety and very few [race] organisations would have done that for us [riders]."
Asked about his form and how sure he had felt when the race kicked off in Calella last Monday, Rodriguez said, "I felt good, but I wasn't sure how good I was compared to the rest of the field. That only became clear during the race."
Looking towards the Giro, his big objective of the year, Rodriguez said, "I'm still building towards my form for that. Catalunya was a goal, so too are the Ardennes Classics, and the Giro comes after that.
"It's hard to draw too many conclusions about my rivals from here. I know that Nairo [Quintana - Movistar] looks like he's going to be the main contender there but he started strong this season and is now perhaps easing back slightly, whilst Rigoberto [Urán-Omega Pharma Quick Step] is doing things similarly. What's certain is we'll all be ready for the Giro.
"My aim is to repeat the 2012 season, I had a good peak of form in the Giro [where he finished second] and then perhaps I'll go through to the Dauphine where there are two or three summit finishes, then have a good rest and come back again for the Vuelta [where he finished third], which has a great route this year and some great rivals - Contador, Quintana, Valverde, Wiggins too. I'm sure it'll be a great Vuelta."
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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