Who is Joaquim Rodriguez?
Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez is not instantly recognisable to the casual cycling fan, but he should be.
Unlike Cancelarra, Schleck, Evans, Boonan or Cavendish he enjoys a certain amount of anonymity outside of cycling circles. But he shouldn’t.
To claim a top five finish in a stage of a grand tour is a remarkable achievement. To bring home eight top five finishes, including two stage wins, two second places, two thirds and two fourths would be an incredible performance. A performance deserving of a Giro d’Italia general classification winner.
But it was not to be for Rodriguez, who ‘did a Schleck’ and was unable to match Garmin-Barracuda’s Canadian star Ryder Hesjedal in the individual time trial that concluded the 2012 edition of Italy’s grandest race.
After holding the leaders’ jersey for a total of 10 days and carrying a 31 second lead into the final stage, the Spaniard went agonisingly close to securing his first grand tour victory, failing by just 16 seconds.
He came close last year too, finishing fourth, and has demonstrated his consistency by accumulating six grand tour top ten results since 2008. However, despite his obvious talent, he is barely recognised outside of Europe.
And yet Rodriguez is hardly a new kid on the block. He has been a pro since 2001 and in 2010 he topped the UCI WorldTour rankings after a solid year that netted him six victories including stage wins in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. In fact, throughout his career he has won multiple stages of Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of the Basque Country, the Vuelta and now the Giro.
Bursting onto the scene as a brash young rider for ONCE-Eroski in 2001, Rodriguez quickly made a name for himself for the wrong reasons when, during a climb on a training ride, he hammered past his team mates while at the same time pretending to smoke a cigar. The inference was that he was handling the pace easily, but it was not well received and earned him the unusual nickname of Purito, which is Spanish for ‘little cigar’.
The nickname remains to this day, but his attitude has changed somewhat as evidenced by his sporting behaviour on stage 15 of this year’s Giro. Italian rider Matteo Rabottini had led the day from the very beginning and had the finish line in sight when Rodriguez, who had dropped all other pursuers, blasted past and looked certain of claiming another stage victory. To his credit, the gutsy Rabottini quickly jumped onto Rodriguez’s wheel and then, to the surprise of everyone, surged back into the lead.
Rodriguez was then content to sit on the Italian’s wheel, allowing the local hero to claim a much deserved stage victory without further harassment. It remains academic if Rodriguez gifted the stage to Rabottini or not, but if he did (and I suspect that he did), it was a class act.
As he did in 2010, Rodriguez now finds himself sitting atop the UCI’s WorldTour rankings. It is small consolation though for a man who is desperate to win a Grand Tour. While he has been at the peak of his game for the last three years and further opportunity will present itself, the man they call Purito is now 33 years of age and time may be running out.
Personally I hope Rodriguez does win a Grand Tour before hanging up his cleats. At least then I won’t have to explain to everyone at work who he is!
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