SEMNOZ, France (VN) — Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) rode teeth to the wind Saturday, jumping ahead of Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) to snag a spot on the Tour de France podium.
“Purito” made an amazing late-Tour surge over the final week, finishing it off Saturday by passing Contador and Saxo-Tinkoff teammate Roman Kreuziger on GC to realize a career-long quest, grabbing third place overall and completing a grand-tour podium sweep.
“Luck finally went my way,” Rodríguez told Spanish radio at the line. “The podium was my goal coming here and I never gave up believing it was possible. And to complete podiums in all three grand tours is something special.”
With his Tour podium spot, coupled with second in the Giro d’Italia last year, and two third places in the Vuelta a España, Rodríguez joins the elite club of podiums in all three grand tours.
Rodríguez started the final mountain stage just 27 seconds behind longtime nemesis Contador, and the Tour podium had never been so close.
Purito jumped with 7km to go, joining Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and the trio quickly put Contador and Kreuziger into the red.
The dynamics of the situation soon worked against Rodríguez, at least in terms of his hopes of also winning the stage. Movistar and Sky have been employing similar tactics all week, and Quintana profited from Rodríguez’s work, sitting in as Rodríguez piled it on to gap Contador.
Rodríguez even got in the Colombian’s face as the threesome toiled toward the summit. Froome was soon caught up in the emotion of being on the cusp of winning the Tour and did not challenge for the stage win.
Quintana bolted clear; Rodríguez countered, but it was too late.
“When they told me that I had 1:30 on Contador, I started to try to save a little for the stage,” Rodríguez said. “If Froome had collaborated a little bit, I could have won. He was super-strong today, but he didn’t do anything to help me. And I knew I had to give all.”
Even without the stage victory, Rodríguez managed to flick Contador in what must have been a sweet payback from last year’s Vuelta, when Contador raided Rodríguez in the Picos de Europa to snatch away the Vuelta’s leader’s jersey.
Midway through the Tour, Rodríguez seemed miles away from the Tour podium.
Hours after bleeding time in the first of two individual time trials at Mont-Saint-Michel, no one was counting on Rodríguez to be much of a threat for the GC.
The Catalan was languishing in 11th place at nearly six minutes behind Froome. Also ahead of him were three Movistars, two Saxo-Tinkoffs and two Belkins — a lot of numbers to move past if he were to think seriously about the podium.
But Rodríguez knew the Tour’s final, brutal week would count in his favor. This was his best chance, and perhaps his last one, to reach that elusive podium. And he never gave up.
After a phenomenal second time trial, when he rode to third at 10 seconds behind Froome, Rodríguez climbed to sixth, but still three minutes behind Contador.
Slowly but surely, he drove through the Alps, picking off rivals and moving ever closer to the podium. A strong climb up L’Alpe d’Huez brought him within range of Contador.
After finishing it off Saturday, Rodríguez already said he’s thinking about something that he’s still missing from his palmares: victory in a grand tour.
This year’s Vuelta is stacked with 12 uphill finales, and is ideal for his attacking, aggressive style.
“Now I can start thinking about the Vuelta,” he said with a laugh. “I hope I don’t have too many parties after the Tour.”