MADRID (VN) — Joaquim Rodríguez is fed up with being Mr. Runner Up.
The 2013 season saw the eternally consistent Spaniard come ever closer to a major result that would catapult him into the realm of the elites, with third in the Tour de France and a gut-wrenching second at the world championships.
Rather than grow frustrated, Rodríguez remains optimistic that luck and fate will eventually turn his way. The important thing, the Katusha captain says, is to keep knocking on the door.
“I start this season with the same motivation as ever,” Rodríguez told VeloNews in a recent interview. “I think winning a grand tour is the only thing that is missing. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is another race I love, and one that I want to win. To win a grand tour, and the world title, that would complete my career and give me a great palmares. There is still plenty to keep me motivated.”
Rodríguez has come painstakingly close to winning both the rainbow jersey and a grand tour. In 2012, he lost the Giro d’Italia by 16 seconds to Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp). And last fall, Portugal’s Rui Costa caught the attacking Rodríguez near the line and then pipped him to relegate the Spaniard to bridesmaid status again.
That pent-up frustration and disappointment came pouring out of Rodríguez, who could not hide his emotions any longer.
“Everything was pouring out of me on the podium,” he said. “We are people, too. We are professionals, and this is our job, but we cannot forget that we arrived to be pros because of a deep love for the bike. You have to remember that all of us started out as kids on the bike, and even though things change when you’re a pro, that love for the bike always remains there.
“On this day, for impotence, for anger, for circumstances of the race, for the desire of dreaming about one’s entire life to be world champion, to lose it in the final moment, I just couldn’t hold it back. I’ve asked for forgiveness because it was a bit sad to see these images but before a moment like this there’s no way to keep the emotions in check.”
The 34-year-old Catalan admits it won’t be easy to turn the page on the frustration of the worlds, but says he has no other choice.
“No, no, it’s not easy at all. It will be there in my head for years to come,” he said. “To have it so close, it’s hard to get over it. I will not forget it, but one also must try to turn the page and focus on new goals, a new season. … If not, you end up stuck in the past, and that doesn’t serve anyone any good.”
Rodríguez is already focusing on preparing for the 2014 season, with a run at the Ardennes and the pink jersey front and center among his goals.
It’s all but certain he will skip the Tour, but Rodríguez said the team is waiting to see how the Vuelta a España route looks when it’s formally announced January 11.
“We’re a bit on standby, waiting to see how the Vuelta shapes up, but the general plan now is Giro, Vuelta, worlds,” he said. “If I do go to the Tour, it will be with another role, perhaps to help or hunt for stages. The Giro is the race that animates me most right now. With my experience and maturity, I think I can win.”
For Rodríguez, the 2014 Tour presents a course he considers unfavorable despite the presence of only one individual time trial. And the arrival of Chris Froome (Sky) also makes things complicated for anyone trying to win the yellow jersey.
“Froome was at another level in 2013. Most of us seem to have a weak point or a bad day, but Froome was superb during the entire Tour. He was untouchable; if he continues like that, he’ll be hard to beat,” he said.
“To beat him it will require us to change our style of racing, to invent something that will surprise me, because otherwise, he has no weak point to attack.”
If there was any consolation in 2013, Rodríguez won the UCI WorldTour prize for the third time in four years, something that reflects his consistency across the entire season.
Since the 2008 Vuelta, Rodríguez has finished in the top 10, including three podiums, in nine of 10 grand tours he’s started.
He’s also won back-to-back titles at the Giro di Lombardia (2012-13), taken Flèche Wallonne (2012), and twice come second at Liège.
“The WorldTour prize represents the regularity that I’ve been able to maintain these past few years. I believe that is my real strength as a rider,” he said. “The most important thing is to be consistent across the season, and be competitive in the races you target. That’s what I will keep doing in 2014.”
Rodríguez has two more seasons with his contract with Katusha, and vows to punch through to victory in a grand tour sooner than later. He’s hoping it comes as soon as May.