ASSISI, Italy (VN) – Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) believes his surge into the maglia rosa is more than just confirmation that he is king of the hilltop finales.
The pint-sized “Purito” is convinced more than ever he can win the Giro d’Italia, and says that he intends to fight all the way to Milan to try to follow in the shoes of Miguel Indurain and Alberto Contador as the only Spaniards who have won the corsa rosa.
“The objective is to win the Giro,” Rodríguez said confidently Wednesday morning in Assisi. “I know I can climb well and it will be difficult for the others to drop me. I come to this Giro in the best condition of my career. We are here to win.”
Katusha sport director Valerio Piva, at least publicly, is not quite as confident as his star rider and realizes the real Giro is only beginning.
“Of course, we are very happy to have the pink jersey, but the hardest part of the Giro is still to come,” Piva told VeloNews. “We have a strong team here and we are going to support him. We are not saying anything is won yet. Far from that, the Giro is just starting. The hardest stages are all still to come.”
Piva expressed satisfaction that Rodríguez made it through the first half of the Giro in excellent position, thanks in large part to the team’s surprising second-place finish in the stage 4 team time trial. Piva said the squad was expecting a good ride, but admitted that stopping the clock just five seconds slower than Garmin-Barracuda was a shock.
“I brought a team here with riders for the team time trial. Brutt, Ignatyev, Smukulis and Kuschynski are all powerful riders to pull him on the flats and we had Vicioso and Moreno for the climb,” Piva said. “We have worked on the bikes and with Purito on his time trial, but to finish second to Garmin by just five seconds was a surprise. A good one!”
That set up Rodríguez to take aim at Ryder Hesjedal’s pink jersey and Piva said the team rode perfectly Tuesday to set him up for the final steep charge up Assisi. Now comes the hard part.
“We might not want to keep the jersey all the way to Cervinia (Saturday). Thursday’s stage is very hard along the coast and if there is a break that goes away, we might let the jersey go with it,” Piva said. “We do not want to stress the team too much. We want the team to be at its best in the final week.”
Rodríguez says this year is different and that he won’t have one of his infamous late-race collapses that have so far handicapped his chances of winning a grand tour. He’s ridden into the top 10 in five grand tours over the past four seasons, but inevitably crumpled in the high mountains or in the individual time trial every time.