Rating the ‘Spanish armada’
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha): AGR – 2nd 2011; FW – 2nd 2010, 2011; LBL – 2nd 2009
Rodríguez has finished second in all three Ardennes classics but has never stepped on the top spot on the podium. On paper, “Purito” is made for this type of course. Many of his biggest wins, including stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de France, have come in similar finales on short, but steep uphill finishes.
Rodríguez will share leadership duties with three-time world champion Oscar Freire, but it’s hard not to believe that Katusha will rally around Rodríguez when the dice are thrown late in the race.
“I have been close before to all of them, so if I could win just one, that would just incredible,” Rodríguez said earlier this year. “All three races are well adapted for me, but it seems that Flèche is the one that is made for me.”
Last year, Rodríguez had the form of his career, but ran into an even better Philippe Gilbert, who swept the Ardennes week. This year, Rodríguez looks to be back in top shape, with wins at Tirreno and the Vuelta al País Vasco to prove it, while Gilbert has all but waved the white flag on the classics.
This could be the year that Rodríguez gets that elusive big win.
Team strength: Katusha brings a deep squad that not only incudes Rodríguez and Freire, but Luca Paolini as well. Dani Moreno could deliver a long-distance attack to take the pressure off the team while Alberto Losada, Xavier Florencio and Giampaolo Caruso will be working hard for the leaders.
Pros: Among the best on the short, steep uphill finales featured in the Ardennes. Tenacious and more experienced than ever, Rodríguez is hitting his peak just in time.
Cons: Just doesn’t have the top-end speed to fend off quick finishers like Gilbert. He will need to open a small gap to be able to win comfortably.