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Rodriguez playing catch up to find form for Ardennes, grand tours

AL MUSSANAH, Oman (VN) — Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) discovered last week in the Tour of Oman that he is behind for his upcoming goals in the Ardennes Classics and the grand tours.

“I won before on Green Mountain, that was a surprise, but it was also a surprise to not be able to stay with that front group of 20,” Rodríguez told VeloNews.

“I need to continue, but also see if I’ve made a mistake in my preparation. I need to continue to work and find my form.”

In 2013, the Spaniard known as “Purito” beat Sky’s Chris Froome to win the mountaintop stage to Green Mountain. Froome went on to win the Tour de France and Rodríguez had one of his best seasons yet. He placed third behind Froome and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the Tour, won the Giro di Lombardia classic, and placed second in the world championship road race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

He began the 2014 season earlier to be ready for the Giro d’Italia, racing in Argentina and Dubai prior to the Tour of Oman. He placed fourth on Green Mountain and held the same place overall when the race finished.

With the dust now settled on the 2015 edition of the Tour of Oman, Rodriguez continues training intensely for the Ardennes Classics because he knows he has little room for errors. His result on Green Mountain, 5:25 down in 49th place, was not good enough.

“The stage result was important because all of us worked this winter to be strong, and at this point, you should at least be able to give yourself a reference point,” Rodriguez said. “From what I saw [Friday], [I] need to work more. The stage was important for that reason.”

“When it’s going well, you can skip some things, but now I know that I need to do everything correctly because I’m off my mark and I can’t afford to make a mistake.”

Another Spaniard, Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), won the stage to Green Mountain and won the overall title two days later.

Rodríguez’s first big objective is the Amstel Gold Race on April 19, followed by the next two Ardennes Classics — La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — in the same week.

Rodriguez said a reason he could be behind is that he prepared for and began all three grand tours in 2014, and as a result, decided to have an easier winter.

Last year he aimed to win the Giro d’Italia on a course suited to his style, but he crashed in stage 6, broke a rib and a finger, and abandoned. He began the Tour de France to build form and aimed to win the Vuelta a España, where he ended up finishing fourth.

Rodríguez’s palmarès includes two titles from Lombardia and La Flèche Wallonne. He has come close, but is still chasing a grand tour victory. This year, he will aim for the Tour and Vuelta titles. Despite being 35 years old, he said his dream of winning one is not over.

“I hope not,” he said. “I know that it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going to work for it.”

The attention, however, remains on four riders who have already won in grand tours: Froome, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).

“The last Tour that I did at full speed, in 2013, I placed third, and that one included more time trial kilometers and less mountain stages than this year’s,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always been there in the grand tours, so why not again?”