Try as he might, Joaquim Rodríguez was unable to shake Alberto Contador or Nairo Quintana from his wheel on stage 19, despite his best efforts on the Col de la Croix Fry. While Rui Costa was racing towards his second victory of the race, the Katusha Spaniard was launching his own attack but it didn't pay off.
Rodríguez has launched a spectacular comeback over the last week, but his run of position climbing in the general classification ended when he finished with the pair in Le Grand-Bornand. Time is running out and with only one more mountain stage at the Tour de France Rodríguez will be hoping he can make up at least two more general classification positions before he reaches Paris.
The Spaniard started Friday's stage in fifth, after making time on Bauke Mollema during the previous day's dual ascent of the Alpe d'Huez. Rodriguez stayed quiet for much of the today's stage before launching an attack near the top of the Col de la Croix Fry, but he was unable to make it stick.
"I had to really race really hard in the final kilometres," said Rodríguez. "We were testing each other and I got a bit of a gap, but they came back to me."
He may be tantalisingly close, but Rodríguez isn't underestimating the task ahead of him. "I am very close... close and far," he told the waiting press at the finish. "It remains really tough, you saw today that even when I'm pulling off the front the others were with me. Alberto is Alberto and I know that if Alberto wants to get second than he can get second. Nairo, I think is one of the best so it is very complicated, but I will try."
Quintana and Contador aren't the only two riders for Rodríguez to worry about. Contador's teammate Roman Kreuziger is just one place above him in fourth and if the Spaniard manages to keep up with the pace then his teammate is likely to be not too far behind. The Katusha rider will be hoping to repeat his performance on the Alpe d'Huez, where he made up two minutes on the Saxo-Tinkoff pair.
With third place up for grabs Rodríguez may play it safe, to ensure his spot on the podium. "We can maybe win the stage," said Rodriguez. "First I have to see if I am in the final. If I want to make it onto the podium then I have to race well. The podium is more important than the stage."
Any rider looking for glory will have to think quick, though, as stage 20 gives the riders a lot less options to attack, with only 125 kilometres of terrain to pick their moment. The first category Mont Revard and the hors catégorie Annecy-Semnoz are the two prime spot for action.
"Anything is possible," Rodríguez said of the last day in the mountains. "In the final it is a steady climb at the bottom, but then there are a lot of turns so it will be very tricky."
While he impressed on the Alpe, Rodríguez thinks that the climb to Annecy-Semnoz won't be a carbon copy. "It is very different to the Alpe, with the heat it is going to be a very different climate. It is a climb that is more like the Glandon in its rhythm. I think that I will have to take it at my own pace and try to stay calm."
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