Rodríguez sees more liberty at Katusha

Joaquín Rodríguez's move to the Russian-backed Katusha squad in 2010 will see him get a chance to race the Tour de France for the first time.

Rodriguez at the Volta ao Algarve last week. Photo: Andrew Hood.

Joaquín Rodríguez wants to be known more than just having one of the most unusual nicknames in the peloton.

They call him “Purito” (there are a lot of different versions of the story on how he got that moniker) and his move to the Russian-backed Katusha squad in 2010 will see him get a chance to race the Tour de France for the first time.

“I was ready for a change and Katusha offered me the chance to race the Tour, something I’ve never been able to do so far in my career,” Rodríguez told VeloNews last week at the Volta ao Algarve. “Racing the Tour is always the dream of any pro and so far it’s eluded me. I hope to race this year.”

The 30-year-old Rodríguez raced for Spanish teams since his pro debut in 2001, first with ONCE, then Saunier Duval before moving to Caisse d’Epargne in 2006.

Throughout his career, he’s raced six Vueltas a España and four Giros d’Italia, but never the Tour. The chance to race in July with Katusha was a big reason why he wanted to make the change.

“Caisse d’Epargne always had different plans for me and it never worked out when I could race the Tour,” he said. “Katusha is offering me more of a chance to ride as a captain throughout the season and then have a shot at the Tour. That gives me even more motivation.”

Rodríguez is a reliable performer in one-day classics, and proved his worth in 2009 with second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and third in the world championships.

“This year, the classics are a big goal for me. I’d like to change that second for first at Liège, but winning any of the big races during Ardennes week would be fine with me,” he said with a smile. “Last year was an important season for me in the classics and I think I can go even better this year with support from the team. Of course, we have other strong riders here for the classics, but that’s even better.”

A winner of a Vuelta stage and the former Setmana Catalana, Rodríguez is perhaps best-known for winning the hilltop stage at Montelupone in the past two editions of Tirreno-Adriatico. After winning last year, he joked it should be changed to Monte-Purito.

On Tuesday, Rodríguez announced he will be skipping Tirreno this year in favor of Paris-Nice, in part because the emblematic climb isn’t part of this year’s Tirreno route.

Rodríguez also brushed off a crash during the team’s training camp at Calpe earlier this month that left him with cuts and contusions to his thigh and hip.

The Catalunya-based rider is heading to Tenerife to train ahead of Paris-Nice.