Velo International Men’s Climber of the Year: Joaquim Rodriguez

Joaquim Rodríguez is our International Men's Climber of the Year

Editor’s note: The January 2013 issue of Velo magazine, which is on newsstands now, is our 25th annual awards issue. Our 2012 Cyclist of the Year was announced on November 29; we’ll be rolling out various other award winners throughout the month of December.

International Men’s Climber of the Year: Joaquim Rodríguez

He floats like a butterfly. He’s about the size of a bee.

The petite Joaquim Rodríguez not only climbed his way to victory in stage after stage at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, he scrambled to the top step of the podium in the UCI WorldTour rankings.

It was a season of firsts for the Spaniard. He captured his first Ardennes classic, rocketing up the Mur de Huy to win Flèche Wallone after having come second the past two seasons, behind the untouchable Philippe Gilbert in 2011, and reigning world champion Cadel Evans in 2010. With its 9.3 percent average grade, the Mur de Huy is a climb tailor-made for the 5-foot-6, 125-pound Rodríguez.

Prior to that, Rodríguez had won two stages atop short, but very steep climbs, to finish second overall at April’s Tour of the Basque Country. It was a dress rehearsal of what was to come throughout his long and bountiful season.

May’s Giro d’Italia saw Purito dancing again, albeit to a different tune. In a fight for grand tour glory against his physical opposite — the tall, lanky, mellow Ryder Hesjedal — the fiery Katusha rider would capture two more stages up steep finishing pitches, gain valuable time bonuses on other key climbing stages, and climb into the race lead as the duel raged. Ultimately, he would succumb to the Canadian, but it wasn’t without dramatic, fantastical efforts in the mountains of Italy. His consolation prize? He captured the points classification from Mark Cavendish with his efforts up the Passo dello Stelvio.

Come August, the indomitable Rodríguez was back for another chance at grand tour supremacy, this time at the Vuelta. Proving that he had tactical acumen to accompany his climbing prowess, after three days of brutal climbing in the rural, rugged Cantabrian mountains, Rodríguez had neutralized or counterattacked race favorite Alberto Contador to widen his lead. But, then, the most dramatic day of racing in 2012 (see page 50) would change everything. On an intermediate stage that seemed the last place a miracle could happen, Contador rolled the dice to snatch the Vuelta from Purito’s grasping hands. He would finish third, dejected and philosophical, saying, “Maybe I will never win a grand tour.”

But still he was not done. In a display of determination and longevity — he had been racing since March — Rodríguez captured the Giro di Lombardia in late September, becoming the first Spanish rider to win the Italian monument in the race’s century-long history.

“This is the victory of my life,” Rodriguez said. “It caps a perfect year.”

And, so, the diminutive Spaniard climbs into the record books as the best rider of 2012, at least on points.