HUY, Belgium (VN) — One might assume that Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) was happy when he saw Mur de Huy featured in this year’s Tour de France route. The Spanish pocket rocket won Flèche Wallonne atop the punchy climb in 2012, and with this year’s first week of the Tour route packed with classics-like courses, Rodríguez should have been licking his lips.
One would have assumed wrong. Rodríguez seemed more relieved than ecstatic Monday after taking a huge victory atop the Mur, fending off Chris Froome (Sky) to take his second-career Tour stage win.
“I am not a big fan that the Tour de France has the Mur de Huy on the route,” Rodríguez said emphatically. “Everyone knows that I love the classics, but there is a big difference between the classics and a grand tour. With the dangers like we saw yesterday, with the wind, and what we faced today, and tomorrow with the pavé, I think it’s a bit excessive. We already have Flèche Wallonne and Paris-Roubaix.”
Rodríguez’s comments came after a horrendous crash disrupted Monday’s stage with about 50km to go, when more than a dozen riders hit the deck in a high-speed pileup, including yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). Cancellara broke two bones in his back and was forced to abandon the Tour after Monday’s stage.
Another rider who is built for hilly classics, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), was among four riders forced to abandon. So many race doctors were attending the injured and fallen riders that officials were forced to bring the peloton to a screeching halt to bring order back to the fractured race.
Monday’s drama came on the heels of Sunday’s opening road stage against gusting winds and rain that drove echelons along the Dutch coast. And if that was not enough, on Tuesday, the peloton faces more than 13km of cobblestones in seven sectors of a 220km stage.
For Rodríguez, it seems all a bit too much, especially when the second half of the Tour is packed with brutal mountain stages.
“These types of stages might bring a bit of a drama to the race, but it adds to the stress and the number of crashes that the riders must endure,” he continued. “In my opinion, the Tour should be won by the strongest rider, not the rider who has the best luck and least amount of problems.”
Rodríguez managed to steer clear of trouble and even snagged the best climber’s jersey, but that was in sharp contrast to Sunday, when the veteran Spaniard punctured and then crashed twice in the chaos, losing 1:28 to the top finishers.
“Yesterday was a bit of a disaster, but it could have been even worse,” he said, now 18th overall, 2:00 back. “I managed to limit my losses, but it’s a bit frustrating. I came into this Tour in top condition, and I am confident in my chances.”
Rodríguez is hoping to limit his losses in the first half to go into the mountains with his GC chances intact. In 2013, no one counted on Rodríguez, but he rebounded after suffering big losses in the time trials to finish third overall.
Katusha sport director José Azevedo told VeloNews on Monday morning that the team has riders to support Rodríguez despite adding firepower for Alexander Kristoff in the sprints.
“We believe in Joaquim’s [Rodríguez] chances. It’s important to limit the losses in the first half, and that’s part of the reason why we brought a few more bigger guys,” Azevedo said. “I think this Tour is similar to 2013. Joaquim is strong and experienced, and that will go for a long way in this Tour.”
Many have called this year’s route one of the most demanding in Tour history. The opening week is packed with classics-style courses, with a team time trial waiting in stage 9. All that comes before the first major climbing stage, with two hard summit finales in the Pyrénées, and four more in the French Alps.
Rodríguez just shakes his head when he contemplates about what’s looming in the mountains.
“This week, a lot will already happen, because you have luck one day, and then the next you do not. And then we have the Pyrénées and then the Alps,” he said. “The Alps this year are very, very, very hard. A lot will happen between here and Paris.”
That’s exactly what everyone is hoping for.