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By Andrew Hood
José Rujano – the diminutive Venezuelan who almost won last year’s Giro d’Italia in his grand-tour debut, placing third overall – is quietly waiting to uncork one in his Tour de France.
The 24-year-old has endured the rough-and-tumble first week with his motivation and ambition firmly intact. Despite a slight fever late last week, Rujano says he’s anxiously awaiting the steep mountain roads of the Pyrenees and Alps, (he finished with the bunch including the favorites on Wednesday’s first day in the Pyrenees)
At just 162cm and 50kg, “Joselito” is confident he can pull a surprise just like he did in last year’s Giro d’Italia.
Since joining Quick Step-Innergetic after his controversial departure from Selle Italia midway through the Giro, Rujano said he returned to Venezuela to prepare for the Tour.
He hasn’t raced on French roads very much and said he’s never seen any of the major climbs on tap for the decisive mountain stages of this year’s Tour.
That’s not stopping the rider who’s called “Il Pantanino” for his semblance to climbing legend Marco Pantani from predicting a stage win — and perhaps more.
VeloNews caught up with Rujano ahead of Wednesday’s start for a quick update on how his first week of the Tour went:
VN.com: How are you feeling after the first week of the Tour?
José Rujano: To tell the truth, I am feeling pretty good. The team is working well, we tried to win a stage with Tom [Boonen], but he had the yellow jersey for a few days. I was okay in the flat stages. I have arrived at the end of the flat stages in pretty good condition. A few days ago, I had a fever and then I’ve had some problems with my left leg. These things happen, and I feel like I have recovered.
VN.com: The flat stages can be rough on climbers, but it sounds like you’re doing okay.
JR: The biggest bother was the fever. I didn’t feel my best in the time trial, but I did okay under conditions and I am satisfied (61st at 4:53 slower). I am in good position going into the terrain that favors me. These two days are key to my hopes.
VN.com: What do you hope to do – win a stage, go for the GC?
JR: We’ll have to see how the legs respond, and the road will decide all these things. I want to try something big in this Tour de France. A stage would be great. We have to see how the legs respond after a week of flat stages.
VN.com: How is it here for you at Quick Step? You came to the team after your exit at the Giro.
JR: This is a great team for me and I want to do something important for the team for supporting me. Things were very confused after the Giro and now I am focused on the Tour. I come here with a clear head. I am happy with this team. I want to be at my strongest in the final week.
VN.com: What are your impressions of the Tour so far?
JR: I am learning new things every day. I hope that I have some form to be able to demonstrate something in this race. The Tour is great. It’s bigger than any race I’ve competed in. All the riders are at the highest level and it’s really the best race in the world.
VN.com: You’re a big star in Venezuela – are there any journalists here following your exploits?
JR: It’s true that I have a high profile. I am a pretty important figure in sports in Venezuela. There are no journalists here, but I stay in touch with them on the telephone and they are following the race.