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‘Purito’ king of punch, but can he go the distance?

JACA, Spain (VN) — Will the 2012 Vuelta a España be another case of close but no cigar for Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez?

Rodríguez delivered on his promise Thursday to win the short but explosive uphill finale in the 175km sixth stage at the Vuelta a España, dusting Chris Froome (Sky) and a cramping Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) to win the stage and expand his overall lead from one second to 10 seconds over Froome.

Just six days into the race, this Vuelta is following the script of so many of the recent grand tours for Rodriquez, who is always right in the heat of the GC battle only to bow to superior riders in the time trials.

With the Vuelta’s lone individual time trial waiting next week in Galicia, will the story repeat itself for this Vuelta? Or can Rodríguez rise to the occasion and deliver an elusive grand-tour win?

Rodríguez admits that he even doesn’t know the answer to that question.

“I am feeling great so far in this Vuelta,” Rodríguez said after winning his fourth career Vuelta stage. “Perhaps I will come up against a stronger rider, be it Froome, Contador or maybe (Alejandro) Valverde. But right now, I have the same sensations as I did at the Giro.”

It’s this year’s Giro, where Rodríguez lost in a final-day showdown against Ryder Hesjedal, that hangs over him like a curse and a blessing.

His 16-second loss to Hesjedal both motivates and haunts Rodríguez. He was closer than ever to winning a major three-week tour, yet once again was foiled by the time trial.

Though he’s made tremendous gains against the clock and will likely never flop like he did in 2010, when he lost six minutes on a 40km power course along the windy flats in the Ribera del Duero wine country, Rodríguez knows he still needs to take time on Contador and Froome if he harbors any real hope of winning the Vuelta when it concludes September 9 in Madrid.

“I worked hard after the Giro. I have a very strong team around me and that motivates me even more, but I realize this Vuelta has very strong riders,” he said. “Froome is looking very good. Arguably he was the strongest rider in this year’s Tour and it’s obvious that he’s here to ride to win.”

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