Having held back prior to the Tour de France and given up the possibility of riding for general classification there, Joaquim Rodriguez is now at the start of his major objective of the season.
The Spanish rider will lead the Katusha team in the race and, after finishing third, third, fourth, sixth and seventh in the past, will be trying to take the first Grand Tour of his career.
“My 2014 season hasn’t gone according to my wishes. So far, it hasn’t been as good as in 2013 but I can make it up at the Vuelta,” he said. “I came out of the Tour de France in good shape. One week later, I was already able to race for the win in San Sebastian.
“It’s been a long season without any rest since the preparation of the Giro really. I’m in the unknown but the first week will tell me all about my condition. My desire to ride at the front is enormous.”
Rodriguez won a stage plus the Volta Catalunya this year, then started the Giro in May. However he crashed on stage six, suffering a fractured rib and thumb. He rode the Tour and while he was just 54th overall, he led the King of the Mountains competition for several stages and then went on to net third in the Clasica San Sebastian.
With form on the up, he knows that his climbing strengths should serve him very well in the Spanish Grand Tour. The race includes eight summit finishes, which he hopes will be enough to negate the effects of the two individual time trials.
“The course of the Vuelta is very hard, especially in the north,” he said. “There’ll be many difficult stages at Covadonga, la Farrapona, Ancares… There’s no key stage. More than ever, consistency will prevail, especially with time bonus that allows gaining some time every day. I want the race to be hard in order to the strongest rider to win.
“This year, there’s no space for a surprise, as all the teams come with a real leader. I like the course, there’s a bit of everything but more mountain than time trialing. The time trial [36.7 kilometres] on stage 10 is a difficult one. Climbers will lose some time but not four minutes as it can happen on such a distance.”
Rather than the course, Rodriguez’ biggest concern will be the strength of the field. The Vuelta lineup is arguably the best in many years and, with Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) all confirmed along with other strong riders, a major battle is set to take place.
“I’m a favourite among many others,” said Rodriguez, who believes in his chances. “The list is as long as the numbers of fingers in two hands. The most important is to arrive at 100% and give everything without worrying about the others.
“Nairo [Quintana] showed himself at the Tour of Burgos, Froome doesn’t hide his ambitions, Alejandro [Valverde] is always well and Contador has to be considered as the great rider he is, regardless of his crash at the Tour de France.”
The Vuelta a España begins Saturday in Jerez de la Frontera. The opening stage is a 12.6 kilometre team time trial.