Rodriguez tips Valverde as possible Vuelta leader

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has politely but firmly rejected the idea that his failure to collaborate with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (TInkoff-Saxo) led to Chris Froome (Sky) remaining in the battle for the Vuelta a España overall.

After stage 14, as the accusations played back and forth, there was a distinct whiff of controversia. These are the brief and quickly forgotten post-stage, mud-slinging sessions of accusation and counter-accusation that form part and parcel of the Giro d’Italia, but which are comparatively very rare in the Vuelta.

However, Rodriguez - who has raced in the Giro more than Contador or Valverde and is therefore more familiar with these sorts of mini-scandals - played down the whole issue by sidestepping the allegations of non-collaboration completely.

"It wasn't like that, at all," he fired back. "Katusha tried to keep a steady pace going a couple of times and every time we did that, they attacked us."

Instead, Rodriguez said it had been others - un-named, although it was obvious whom he was referring to - who "did not collaborate as much as I would like. That way I could have got on the [provisional] podium." As it is, he is tied on time with Froome, who remains in third overall. "But nobody can complain because of all the teams, it was ours that worked the hardest.

"Maybe it was Contador who didn't want to go at a steady pace. People kept attacking me, so finally I had to go along with the same game and attack myself."

However, just as he and Valverde chased down Contador - and then the three settled into a stalemate - exactly the same happened to Rodriguez, thanks to Valverde and Contador pouncing on the Katusha rider when he charged away.

In Rodriguez eyes, the rider who is benefiting the most from this constant neutralisation of each other's attacks is not Froome, but Valverde.

"Alejandro knows what he's doing. He knows that if this goes on, he'll end up as leader. He's not losing time and on top of that he's getting more and more time bonuses." - 25 seconds so far, compared to Contador's six seconds and Rodriguez's 12.

As for his own physical condition, Rodriguez said simply, "I'm not feeling too bad. But everybody's on the limit in any case: when riders are strong, they'll go charging up the road, but here we've had a lot of hard racing, and the really hot weather in the first week is still taking its toll."

If Contador is knocked off the top spot overall, Rodriguez insisted it would not be because of an attack like the one at Fuente De two years ago, when Contador ambushed Rodriguez when he least expected it.

"That was something that happens once every ten years. This time we're all more or less equally strong." 

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