Rodriguez increases lead as seventh-placed Roche prepares to dig in
CYCLING/TOUR OF SPAIN:VUELTA A España race leader Joaquim Rodriguez increased his advantage over all his main rivals on yesterday’s 12th stage, forging ahead in his known explosive style to win atop the short, brutally-steep climb to Mirador de Ézaro.
The Team Katusha competitor had started the day just one second clear of 2008 race winner Alberto Contador but finished up 13 ahead in the overall standings; eight of the seconds gained yesterday came in the final 500 metres, when he powered clear of his rival, while four came from a time bonus in hitting the line first.
“There was a moment when I looked at the other riders and I realised Contador was following me. If he manages to stay in my slipstream in a finale like that, it means he’s going really well,” said Rodriguez, referring to his own recognised flair for such climbs. “I had in my mind to win the stage. With the work done by my team to set me up, I couldn’t do anything else but win up here.”
Contador can nevertheless be relatively satisfied; he gained five seconds on third-placed finisher Alejandro Valverde, 12 on Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and a further three on Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome.
When the bonuses were also factored into account, Rodriguez has that 13 second lead over Contador, who tends to prefer longer climbs and so will still hope to move into pole position in the upcoming big mountain stages. Froome is 51 seconds back.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche had another good showing, finishing eighth on what was one of the steepest finishes in cycling. He conceded 31 seconds to Rodriguez on the final climb and remains seventh overall, four minutes and 22 seconds back. With no more time trials to be tackled, he knows his chance of taking his highest ever Grand Tour finish [he was seventh in the Vuelta two years ago] will be determined by how he fares on the longer climbs ahead.
“Now it is all going to be done on the mountains . . . I am going to have to put the seatbelt on and dig in,” Roche told The Irish Times. “This weekend it is extra hard. I am not quite sure how I will go, but I feel in good shape.”
Today’s 172.8 kilometre stage to Ferrol is mainly flat and could produce a bunch gallop. Saturday’s and Sunday’s legs are a different matter entirely, with the first of those featuring five climbs and finishing atop the first category Puerto de Ancares. The next is less saw-toothed in its profile but concludes at the summit of the gruelling Lagos de Covadonga.
The challenges of Rodriguez, Contador, Roche and other riders will be considerably influenced by how they perform on those days, one week before the conclusion of the race.
FIXTURES:Saturday to Sunday: National track championships, Sundrive Road; Charleville 2 day, stage 1 starts at 3pm.
Sunday: Meath cycling championships, Athboy road, Navan. First races at 11 am.