Joaquim Rodriguez ready to do battle in the Vuelta's crucial second week
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Monday, September 06, 2010

Joaquim Rodriguez ready to do battle in the Vuelta's crucial second week

by Jered Gruber at 11:47 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Catalonian in perfect position to take not only the Vuelta, but the UCI #1 spot as well

Today's rest day in Tarragona was a welcome respite from the ferocious demands of the first week of the year's final Grand Tour. It was also a homecoming for the UCI's #2 ranked rider, Joaquim Rodriguez. The Catalonian has had the best year of his career so far in 2010, and it looks possible that it could turn significantly better if the 2nd placed overall at the Vuelta, on the same time as race leader Igor Anton, continues along the same path he appears to be on.

The homecoming for the rider nicknamed, Purito, wasn't exactly what he had dreamt of though. The red leader's jersey was the goal of the 31 year old for his return to his homeland of Catalonia. He came close, but couldn't quite get it.

"I am sorry not to have the red jersey in Catalonia. I came out strong at this Vuelta and in good shape. Coming home to my people in red was important to me, but it didn't end up being possible. In Xorret, I thought I could do it, but at that moment, I was spent," said arguably this year's most improved rider to the Spanish daily, Marca.

While it would have been nice to wear crimson at home, there is a bright side to remaining in his Katusha white and blue. "It is not a direct target to get red right now, seeing how things are, my objectives will be to focus on the general and do damage in the big stages as much as possible," said Rodriguez to Es Ciclismo.

Unsurprisingly, the winner of the Volta a Catalunya might not be keen on getting the lead right this second, but he is aiming as high as possible over the next twelve stages: "I want to fight for the top step of the podium."

While the top step of the podium is his goal, Purito does not think that we've seen anyone put forth a performance worthy of the overall victory at this point. The stages have been difficult but not so difficult as to allow the cream to rise to the top out of the large group of contenders.

Speaking to Marca, Rodriguez is resolute that we haven't seen anything yet. "There are 19 riders within two minutes, but we have not yet begun to really see the mountains. The second week is the hardest, and it will select the favorites. There will be big differences…We will have to wait until the big mountains before we see a clear favorite at the Vuelta, someone who is above the others. The three big mountain stages in the north will be brutal, and there will be differences."

Ahead of the race, and even during it so far, many of the Spanish contenders, including Igor Anton, Ezequiel Mosquera, and David Arroyo have all given the nod of race favorite to Giro third place finisher, Vincenzo Nibali. Again speaking with Marca, Rodriguez is less keen on handing over his approval to the young Italian.

"You have to prove your status as a favorite, and his team has done nothing to make it clear that they are leading a great cyclist. We will have to see out on the road."

The Vuelta overall is of course the top priority for Rodriguez, but the World Championships are not far off.

"I have to see how the Vuelta goes before I decide on my participation in the World Championships." It's not hard to see which direction he's leaning though when he concedes to Marca that, "I have a huge desire to race the World Championships."

"Many things can happen because of the hardness of the course," mused the Katusha leader to Es Ciclismo. "Freire is the leader, but we need riders like Luis Sanchez and myself. If I get the chance to win, I won't waste it."

Up until this season, Rodriguez has spent the vast majority of his career playing the role of the helper with a chance to shine in smaller races. The same held true at the World Championships, but this year, things could be very different. "At other times, I have been able to fight for the medals, but I had to keep an eye on Freire or Valverde. Now, if I have the opportunity to race for the win, I won't miss it," confirms the Catalonian to Marca.

A by-product of Rodriguez's fire hot form is the previously seemingly impossible task of toppling Alberto Contador from the top of the UCI rankings. The UCI top spot is normally not a goal in itself, but at this point in the season, the 2nd place finisher at this year's Fleche Wallonne is very aware of the standings and his chances of taking over #1.

"I can be number one on the UCI rankings, even without winning the Vuelta. We've done the numbers, and there are still some races to go," noted the explosive climber in his conversation with Es Ciclismo.

The honor of finishing the year as the UCI's number one ranked cyclist is not far off for Rodriguez, and overall victory at the Vuelta is also only 12 stages distant. If he can hold his form together for just a little under two weeks, Rodriguez's season can go from good to great, but for Rodriguez, the most important racing of his season is about to begin.

"I have been racing since February, but so far I'm fine," said Rodriguez to Marca. "Now, the race heads into my terrain, and I have to seize the opportunity to take time, because when the time trial comes, I will lose time."

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