Rodríguez takes Vuelta battle to high mountains

It's been calculated that there are no less than 11,500 metres of climbing for the Vuelta a España's peloton in the three days the race spends in the mountains of northern Spain. But if anybody thought that that amount of riding uphill inevitably meant some major upsets on general classification, on day one at least - from Palas de Rey to Ancares - they were sorely mistaken.

instead, after becoming the race leader since stage four to Ezcaray, ten days later Joaquim Rodriguez continues to dominate the Vuelta, with his third - and arguably most important - stage win so far at Ancares.

Frequently asked about his capacity to handle high mountain climbing, as if finishing second in the Giro this May and fourth in the Vuelta in 2010 was not enough of an answer, Rodríguez silenced the armchair critics again this afternoon. The 33-year-old Katusha rider not only comfortably handled the fast pace set down by Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank team throughout the stage over four earlier classified climbs, but also powered past the Spanish stage racing star on the ten kilometre Ancares to claim the win and open up his overall lead a little more.

Although the two exchanged a friendly hug afterwards, Rodríguez preferred to play down his latest triumph, saying "this is only the beginning, there is still a long way to go."

"Alberto is a very dangerous rider, and his attacks are difficult and I suffered a lot just to keep in contact with him."

"But in the last kilometre I saw that Valverde [Movistar] was closing the gap and I decided to go for it again." - so successfully that he not only shed Valverde for good, but regained contact with Contador and roared past him.

Having Katusha team-mates Alberto Losada up the road in the early break and Dani Moreno with him in the closing kilometres were "crucial for me," Rodriguez said. "Knowing Alberto was there was great for my morale, and having Dani there with me was really useful in the final part of the day. Top marks to both of them."

Rodríguez only showed some annoyance when asked if his counter attacks on Ancares showed he had improved in the high mountains. "I never doubted about my capacity to climb, I've always climbed well," he said. "I think somebody's obsessed with that idea."

"In any case, if someone like Alberto or Valverde or Froome, one of the top climbers, manages to drop you in the mountains, it's no disgrace."

His ability to produce extra burst of speed at the end of a big mountain climb made all the difference on Ancares, one reporter said, but Rodriguez responded, "yes, but you've got to get there first. You can't sprint like that if you've not climbed up there first."

"The stage was very spectacular, very fast, and Saxo Bank never let the other breaks get more than 90 seconds or a couple of minutes. But knowing I had Losada up there was a boost to my morale."

He was mildly critical of Froome's late, unexpected, counter-attack around three kilometres from the line, saying "when he came past me on a false flat, I couldn't believe it was him. But then he blew again on the harder section. Personally, I think it's better to try to be more consistent."

So round one of the three big mountain stages of northern Spain went to Purito. However, Rodríguez has no doubt that this is still a four way fight between himself, Contador, Valverde and Froome.

"Valverde's still there and even if Froome's not been up there today, he's not out of the fight by any means. One minute, 90 seconds or two minutes, it's nothing when there are three really tough stages" - two in the north and one outside Madrid on the Bola del Mundo - "left to come. WIth just one bad day, you can be out of the fight."

And then displaying his usual humour, Rodríguez concluded, "of course, I'd prefer it to be a two-way fight. Or if it was just me at the top, then so much the better."

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