HEILIGENBLUT, Austria (VN) – José Rujano (Androni) seems back at his best in this year’s Giro d’Italia after a five-year drought that saw him struggle with form, personal problems and results.
So far through this Giro, the pint-sized Venezuelan has been the only rider who’s been able to match pedal strokes with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard). Rujano sucked Contador’s wheel all the way up Mount Etna on Sunday, but got the stage win Friday in Austria after he helped set the pace on the long, dragged out climb up Grossglockner. It was obvious the deal was made and Contador even waved the diminutive climber past in the closing meters to allow him to take the win.
“We agreed to work together to help make the gap to the others. On Etna, I had a mechanical problem in the final 1800 meters, but to even stay close to Contador says a lot,” a happy Rujano said. “To win today was great. It proves that I am back at being the old Rujano from before.”
Now 29, Rujano’s European career stalled soon after his 2005 Giro sensation, when he rode to third overall, won a stage and the King of the Mountains jersey. After that, Rujano’s European odyssey included spells on Quick Step in 2006, Unibet in 2007 and Caisse d’Epargne in 2008. A series of crashes left him with poor results. Some whispered that success spoiled him and that he wasn’t doing his work to be ready for the season’s big events.
He returned to South America, winning the 2009 Vuelta a Colombia and then the Tour de Langkawi in 2010. His return to Androni, which is backed by Italian sage Gianni Savio, has helped put him back on the winning track.
“Rujano had some problems and he had some bad advice. He was young and he learned from them,” Savio said. “Now he’s more mature. With us, we know how to treat him. He’s a special character, but he wants to win and he wants to do well. He feels like he’s back home with us.”
Savio is renowned for mining the South American peloton to find find diamonds in the rough. He’s worked as the national coach at both Colombia and Venezuela and has helped bring over several other top South American pros. Rujano, however, has been his pet project.
Rujano worked at picking coffee beans, saving money to finally be able to buy his first bike. He soon left his mark in South America and Savio, with his ear to the ground, scooped him up and brought him to Europe. After turning his back in Savio to chase big-money contracts, Rujano says he’s glad to be back with the grey-haired team manager.
“I had a lot of problems with my health. I crashed and broke some bones,” Rujano said. “All those problems I had I want to leave in the past. It’s over and I am feeling good again. I want to enjoy cycling again.”
Unfortunately, it appears Rujano’s comeback won’t have a silver lining. He crashed in stage 3 on the strade bianche and lost six minutes. With his two strong rides so far in this Giro, Rujano could have been a favorite for the podium. Instead, with his crash, he 17th overall at 5:57 back.
Contador certainly respects Rujano’s climbing ability and quickly marked his wheel when Rujano jumped with 10km to go. With a six-minute head start, Contador is only too happy to have Rujano ride his coattails. With this alliance, they both come out on top.