Joaquin Rodriguez rose to the occasion to claim his maiden Tour de France success on one of the toughest stages in the second week of the race Friday.
The Katusha rider Rodriguez stands only 5 feet 5 inches tall and is known affectionately as “Purito,” the make of a stubby cigar sold in his native Spain.
But his small stature did not stop him from beating some big names to the line in the Mende aerodrome, which sits a kilometer after the prestigious climb of the steep 3.1km La Croix Neuve, now known as the “Jalabert” climb, for Laurent Jalabert.
Rodriguez attacked the main peloton containing all the favorites on the final ascent as they chased Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov, who was part of an earlier breakaway.
His attack prompted reigning champion Alberto Contador to counter, but Rodriguez stuck on his countryman’s wheel all the way to the finish, overtaking him just before the finish line.
“I might be small, but my list of victories isn’t too bad,” said Rodriguez, who was formerly known for his support work for former team leader Alejandro Valverde at Caisse d’Epargne.
Since moving to Katusha, Rodriguez has been given more of a leading role, resulting notably in his second-place finish behind BMC’s Cadel Evans at this year’s Fleche Wallonne.
The Catalonian’s win on the 12th stage was particularly special after hearing it finished after the steep climb where French great Jalabert won a famous stage in 1995.
“I came here to look at the stage before the Tour and liked the look of it, although I knew it would be pretty hard,” he added. “But when Contador came across to me I knew I could resist his attack.”
Rodriguez’s win moved him up one place to eighth overall, with a deficit of 4 minutes and 58 seconds deficit to race leader Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
On his maiden Tour de France, the 31-year-old has impressed.
“My aim before the Tour was to win a stage and finish as high up as possible in the general classification,” he said. “That’s one of my aims crossed off and I hope to keep fighting for a top finish.
“I’ve been a professional for 10 years now, so it was high time I rode the world’s biggest bike race.”