Joaquim Rodriguez confirmed his status as Spain’s top contender for their home race when he blasted off in the fifth stage for a four-second victory on Wednesday on a viciously steep finish.
The Katusha rider claimed his team’s second-stage win in 24 hours and Spain’s third victory in as many days ahead of Dutchman Wouter Poels. Rodriguez’s teammate Dani Moreno finished third, while France’s Sylvain Chavanel retained the overall lead.
Snatching a 20 second time bonus as well as his sixth win of the season after he rocketed away from a crumbling pack 500m from the line, Rodriguez told reporters his team’s morale was stronger than ever.
“Two wins in a row for the squad and a stage win for me so early on is great news,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always said I wanted to go for the overall and this confirms I’m in great shape. It’s very early days yet, all of the favorites are still very close together, but a win like this shows I mean business to everybody.”
Fourth in the Tour of Spain last year and fifth in this year’s Giro d’Italia, the 32-year-old said: “This is the ideal start, but it’s the third week that counts. Just look at last year, where everybody thought I had the race sewn up after the mountains, but then I lost the lead in the final time trial. This late in the season, it’s hard to tell what will happen from one day to the next.”
Spain’s other top contender, Igor Anton, had his second difficult stage in 24 hours.
The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider clung on to the back of the pack on the long but shallow second category ascent of Valdepenas just before the finish, but then lost 57 seconds to Rodriguez on the final ascent.
Moreno remains in second place overall, but is now just nine seconds back on the French national champion Chavanel, while Rodriguez has gained 10 places to move into third, 23 seconds back.
“I was badly placed at the foot of the climb but I knew I had some time in hand on Rodriguez, so I wasn’t too worried,” said Chavanel, 37th on the stage at 31 seconds.