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Tour de France

‘Purito’ will leave Katusha to guarantee the Tour

WorldTour champion says he will leave his Russia-backed team if it does not secure a ProTeam license in an appeal to CAS

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Joaquim Rodríguez knows that the 2013 Tour de France is his best chance yet of reaching the podium in cycling’s most important stage race.

What he doesn’t know is if he’ll be there. His fate is anything but certain as his Katusha squad is fighting to keep its place in the WorldTour.

The Russian-backed team lost its ProTeam license after the UCI license commission denied an extension based on ethical breaches. Katusha is now preparing a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Rodríguez, meanwhile, is anxiously waiting on the sidelines and keeping his options open. His contract allows him to leave Katusha if it does not have a spot among the 18-team WorldTour league.

Speaking to the Spanish daily MARCA, Rodríguez said he would leave Katusha if he cannot be guaranteed a spot at the Tour’s start line in Corsica next summer.

“If Katusha is not WorldTour, then I will change teams, because I do not want to take a step back,” he told MARCA. “I honestly do not believe I deserve it. I have a divided heart, because I would leave behind a big family, but looking at it from the sporting level, I would have no other choice to look out for my interests.”

At 33, Rodríguez says he cannot afford to miss the chance to ride for the podium.

After coming close in 2012 to winning both the Giro d’Italia (second) and the Vuelta a España (third), Rodríguez believes that the challenging 2013 Tour parcours is ideal for his characteristics.

“The route is more mountainous and it has less time trials than normal, so it’s perfectly adapted to me,” he said. “Who knows when we’ll see another Tour like this… What I want is to go to the Tour with the idea of trying to win and not having any problems.”

Curiously, Rodríguez has only raced the Tour once — in 2008 — when he won a stage and finished eighth overall.

Looking back at 2012, Rodríguez says it was a bittersweet campaign. He won Flèche Wallonne and the Giro di Lombardia, took home the WorldTour overall title, and came oh-so-close in the Giro and Vuelta.

“It was my best season ever. I have won a lot, but I also lost a lot, too, the Giro and the Vuelta, which were my fault,” he said. “I could have won both of them, or at least one. It was my fault I didn’t win. And that makes me mad. At least I demonstrated that I am capable of winning.”

When looking back at the two races, he admits he made mistakes, first underestimating Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who beat him by 16 seconds in the Giro, and second, allowing Alberto Contador to ambush him with just five days to go at the Vuelta on the relatively easy stage to Fuente Dé.

“Perhaps the Vuelta, but in the Giro, we let Hesjedal take too much time thinking that he would not be able to hang on, and he did,” he said. “The Vuelta we lost in one day. It was a turn of events that no one could have imagined turning out like it did, but it was an accumulation of events and everyone knows how it turned out.”

Busy season, he hopes

For 2013, Rodríguez promises “more of the same,” or at least he’s hoping so.

“It’s my third year at a high level. I am older, but I am also more experienced,” he said. “I have more motivation than ever. I am going to keep on this line. I want to win a grand tour.”

Rodríguez has already outlined his racing schedule — still dependent on what happens with Katusha — one that will keep him busy from January through October.

He will debut next month at the Tour de San Luís in Argentina, then race the Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya. After the spring classics, he’ll race the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France. Later, it’s the Vuelta, the world championships and the fall classics.

For Rodríguez, it’s the Tour and the worlds that motivate him the most for 2013.

“I have won classics, among them a ‘monument,'” he said, referring to his win at the Giro di Lombardia. “I’ve been on podiums, I’ve had leader’s jerseys, won stages in grand tours, won smaller stages races. The only thing I’m missing is to wear the yellow jersey and to win a grand tour.”