NAVA, Spain (VN) — Carlos Rodríguez is being called by many in the Spanish media as Spain’s “next big thing.”
Going into Sunday’s decisive climbing stage in Asturias, the 21-year-old is already proving he deserves the marquee status at the Vuelta a España.
Rodríguez hung with the best Saturday at Callao Fancuaya to climb into fourth overall. Pretty heady stuff for the grand tour rookie at Ineos Grenadiers.
“There’s still a lot of racing, but the sensations are good,” Rodríguez said at the start Sunday. “I didn’t expect to be up there with the best. Now we have to try to confirm everything, and then we’ll see.”
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Ineos Grenadiers “finally” brought Rodríguez to the Vuelta for his highly anticipated grand tour debut this month after two full seasons with the British outfit.
Some in Spain were grumbling that Rodríguez, the reigning elite men’s road champion, wasn’t seeing race opportunities at the British super-team since signing on in 2020.
It’s true Rodríguez didn’t race much in 2020, with only 20 race days, but 2021 saw a busy season to confirm his talent.
Second at the Tour de l’Avenir — Norway’s Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) hung on for the win by seven seconds — revealed what many inside Spain and the Ineos bus already knew.
The rider from Spain’s Andalucía region has been quietly on fire all season long, with a string of top-5s and finally his first pro win with a stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco in April.
He followed that up by winning the Spanish road title in June, and hit out with fifth at Clásica San Sebastián and fourth at the Vuelta a Burgos ahead of the Vuelta.
The time was ripe for a Vuelta debut.
Rodríguez: ‘Let’s hope the legs respond’
Ineos Grenadiers’ sport director Matteo Tosatto told VeloNews the team isn’t putting any pressure on Rodríguez, but they’re not holding him back, either.
“We knew he was going well coming to the Vuelta,” Tosatto said. “He’s been working hard to arrive to the race, and he’s ready to race a grand tour. He’s young still, and the team brings many cards to play on GC.”
Going into Sunday’s stage, Rodríguez is the unexpected leader of the powerful Ineos Grenadiers outfit. Rodríguez started fourth overall at 1:47 back, Tao Geoghegan Hart in fifth at 1:54 back.
Pavel Sivakov is hanging in the top-20, while Richard Carapaz has struggled on the early mountain stages.
As expected we’re seeing a big fight to make the break. pic.twitter.com/lF4bpJSF50
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) August 28, 2022
Rodríguez buried himself to finish close to Remco Evenepoel and the other leaders in Saturday’s grueling finale.
“I am dead after the stage, but that’s normal,” Rodríguez told reporters at the line Saturday. “I had to give everything, and that’s what we did. I am happy to have had better sensations than I did Thursday [at Pico Jano], and I could stay with the best. I hope to stay like this and that the legs respond.”
Rodríguez’s rise comes as Spanish cycling is looking for a new generation to step into the void left by Alejandro Valverde, who retires at the end of this season.
Juan Ayuso (UAE Emirates) is also showing signs of life, while Enric Mas (Movistar) is bouncing back from a difficult Tour de France to slot into second overall.
“Let’s see how we get through today,” Rodríguez said at the start Sunday. “We hope to have some numbers to play in the GC. There’s still a lot of Vuelta to go.”