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Rider of the week

Asked a couple of years ago what races he dreams of winning, Joaquim Rodriguez replied almost in the blink of an eye: the World Championships, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and a Grand Tour. Up until now, he came close of scoring a memorable win in each and everyone of these: in 2013, he was 500 meters short of taking the rainbow jersey, after being caught by Rui Costa on the finishing straight in Florence. It was a remake of the scenario seen earlier in the season at “La Doyenne”, where he came agonizingly close of landing the victory, before being surpassed by Daniel Martin. As these defeats weren’t enough, one year earlier, “Purito” also lost both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España during his prime, after wearing the leader’s jersey and being the overwhelming favourite with just a couple of stages left to go.

It’s true, in the same period of time, the Katusha rider has built himself a nice palmares, winning Grand Tour stages, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Volta a Catalunya, finishing first in the 2012 Flèche Wallonne, as well as taking back-to-back triumphs in the Giro di Lombardia (one of cycling’s Monuments), but the general impression was that once he came short of greatness on a regular basis, another big opportunity will never return, especially as he was getting older.

Lining-up for the 70th running of the Vuelta as one of the second-tier contenders, Joaquim Rodriguez has had a slow start and missed some important chances of making amends, two of these being Cumbre del Sol and Cortals d’Encamp, the latter being a stage he designed last year, at the organisers’ request. As a result, many were beginning to think the race will go down as another one in which the Catalan cyclist will disappoint and end up outside the podium.

Surprisingly, this time, there was more than meets the eye regarding “Purito”, who preferred to have a slow start and build up his condition in the second half of the race, instead of going all in from the first mountain stages. As a result, he steadily climbed in the overall classification, up until the point that the final week of the race finds him second in the general rankings – with a spectacular stage victory in the bag – and very confident that he can finally win a Grand Tour and fulfill one of his biggest dreams.

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