Joaquim Rodriquez - Cycling's Nearly Man
With retirement looming for Joaquim Rodriquez, Sports Gazette takes a look back on the career of cycling's eternal bridesmaid.
It is unclear whether Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriquez will end his 15 year professional cycling career at the end of the season.
Rodriquez, 37, initially announced during this year’s Tour de France that the Olympic Road Race in Rio would be the final race of his career. However, since the Olympics Rodriquez has implied that he will honour his contract and compete until the official end of the cycling season.
There have even been rumours that the rider, affectionately known as ‘Purito’ in the peloton, will ride on into the 2017 season.
Whether or not Rodriquez decides to call it a day, it seems like a good time to reflect on an extraordinary career that has seen the rider finish on the podium in all three Grand Tours, as well as finishing second in the UCI World Road Race Championships.
Born in Barcelona in 1979, the son of an amateur racer, Rodriquez’s slight stature gave him the traditional physique of a pure climber, and stood him in good stead to be a rider capable of challenging in some of cycling’s most esteemed stage races.
Despite Rodriquez’s career only flourishing in its latter stages, the Spaniard produced some impressive results in his twenties. In 2005, racing for the Saunier Duval-Prodir team, 'Purito' claimed the King of the Mountains classification in the Vuelta a España whilst 2007 saw him win the Spanish Road Race title.
It was 2010 though, and the rider’s move to Russian outfit Team Katusha, that provided the platform for a signifiant breakthrough season. An eighth place finish in the Tour de France, followed by a narrow miss on the podium in the Vuelta helped the Spanish rider to top the UCI World Rankings at the close of the season.
Rodriquez missed the 2011 Tour de France to focus on the Vuelta and though he wore the leader’s red jersey early on, the race ultimately ended in disappointment and a nineteenth place finish.
2012 was simultaneously Rodriquez’s most successful and heartbreaking year. In the Giro D’Italia, Rodriquez came as close as he would ever get to victory in the general classification of a Grand Tour.
Vying with BMC’s Ryder Hesjedal for top spot, the maglia rosa (the race leader’s pink jersey) had yo-yoed between the two from the seventh stage of the race. Rodriquez performed brilliantly in the mountains to lead Hesjedal by 31 seconds going into the final stage of the race; a 28.2km individual time trial in Milan. Hesjedal bettered Rodriquez’s time to claim victory by just 16 seconds and shatter the Spaniard’s dreams."I don't take consolation in silver and bronze, because we want to win.”
Later that year Rodriquez was again leading the general classification in the closing stages of a Grand Tour, this time at the Vuelta. He had won mountain stages against Chris Froome and Alberto Contador and looked as though he was on course for the win. However, a breakaway group marshalled by Contador on stage 17 proved too much and Rodriquez cracked, tumbling to third in the general classification.
As in 2010, Rodriquez topped the UCI World Rankings at the close of the season, but a pattern was emerging of painfully close defeats which was to become a feature of his career.
In 2013, Rodriguez rode the Tour de France for the first time in three years. During the first two weeks of the Tour, Rodriquez’s mediocre form saw him way off the pace in the general classification, sitting in eleventh place. However, in the race’s final week, the Spaniard rode strongly in the Alps and managed to usurp Contador for a place on the podium, behind only Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana.
The course profile for the 2013 UCI World Road Race Championships consisted of a difficult, hilly route around Tuscany, suiting Rodriquez. He broke out of a select group in the closing stages of the race and looked set to be riding his way to a deserved rainbow jersey. With just a few hundred metres to go, Rodriguez was caught by Portugal’s Rui Costa and the two contested a sprint for victory. After seven and a half hours in the saddle, Rodriquez lost by less than a bike length.
Rodriquez’s disappointment was impossible to hide, stating after the race “Two medals don’t mean anything…we want to win, and to be so close, and not win, well, it’s not something to celebrate. I don’t know if I will have another chance like this. I don’t take consolation in silver and bronze, because we want to win.”
There was still time for one last ‘nearly’ moment for the Spaniard in the 2015 season when, riding the Vuelta, Rodriquez took the overall lead of the race on stage 16 with just 5 stages left to defend the red jersey. However, as with the 2012 Giro, it was to be the following day’s individual time-trial that was to be his downfall. He lost over three minutes to his rivals and finished the race in an all too familiar second place.
In the 2016 season, any realistic chance of Rodriquez winning an elusive Grand Tour victory had gone, and the seventh place he achieved at the Tour de France was seen as an excellent result. To mark his final appearance in a race where he had created so many memorable moments, 'Purito' was granted the honour of leading the peloton onto the Champs-Elysées in the race’s final stage.
It is absurd to brand a professional cycling career that has included fourteen stage victories in the sport’s Grand Tours as anything other than remarkable. It could have been even better though. In other circumstances, Joaquim Rodriquez could have won any of cycling’s most prestigious races. He could have won all four. Instead, he is destined to be cycling’s nearly man.