Vuelta a Espana race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has said he feels more optimistic about his chances in Wednesday’s crucial medium-length individual time trial after checking out the course route in and around the northern Spanish city of Burgos.
Rodriguez had been downbeat about whether he could withstand the expected time trial onslaught from Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin in the 39km race against the clock. This was logical given the Spaniard's previous reference point from such a scenario in the 2010 Vuelta, where Rodriguez lost the leader’s jersey in a disastrous third-week 46km time trial at Peñafiel on pancake flat, dead straight, exposed roads. That day, Purito finished 105th behind winner Peter Velits, and slumped to fifth overall, whilst Vincenzo Nibali took the overall lead, which he held all the way to Madrid.
But as Rodriguez told a rest-day press conference, “the time trial course is different to what I imagined it to be. We thought it would be completely flat, where everybody would go flat out, and it’s not that. The first 10 or 12 kilometres are not at all easy.”
Cyclingnews also checked out the time trial route, the first part of which has some short, very easy climbs in the first two thirds and a few technical sections.
Largely open and exposed, the trickiest part of the course is arguably when it reaches Burgos and races through the city in the last kilometres before the finish.
Rodriguez has an advantage of one second on Fabio Aru (Astana), 1:35 on Rafal Majka - largely overseen by the local media, but the Tinkoff-Saxo rider also has a great opportunity of, at the very least, taking his first Grand Tour podium this week - and 1:51 on Dumoulin.
“I’m not making any calculations,” Rodriguez said, “I just have to do it very well, and everybody else, not so well. Let’s play the game and see how it works out.
"The pressure is on him [Dumoulin] because he’s the top favourite to win the Vuelta, but there’s always the chance I’ll do a great time trial. And I’ve got a time gap which, even if it’s not what I’d like, isn’t so bad, either.”
Should Rodriguez survive the time trial as race leader, the Catalan climber resorted to irony to make his analysis of how the final week could work out. “If I start the final five stages of the race as leader, for sure something will happen, and if I’m not race leader, then for sure nothing at all will happen,” Rodriguez said with a grin.
Rodriguez has firsthand experience of successful last minute ambushes on the overall - as in 2012, when Alberto Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo blew the race apart on a theoretically easy stage in the third week, wresting the lead from the Catalan. But in any case, Rodriguez first obstacle to his keeping the lead, the time trial, has yet to be overcome.