Vuelta leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished third on stage 16, dropping his main rival Alberto Contador just prior to the finish.
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Katusha leader says “hardest part of Vuelta is behind us now”
With his lead now up to 28 seconds on Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and the hardest part of the Vuelta a España behind him, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) sounded more confident than ever about his chances of netting his first ever Grand Tour.
Second in the 2012 Giro and fourth in the 2010 Vuelta, Rodríguez made crucial progress towards securing the final overall on Monday. In each of the two previous mountain stages Contador has failed to shake Rodriguez, and today it was the same old story.
After sticking to Contador’s back wheel like a limpet for most of the final five kilometres, Purito then darted ahead to claim third on stage 16, a four second time bonus and to strike a huge psychological blow in his battle with the Madrileño. Contador had repeatedly claimed that the mountains were “his terrain” – but in the 2012 Vuelta, the double Tour winner has had no option but to share them with Rodriguez.
“It’s a very big step forward,” the 33-year-old from Barcelona, – also leader of the points competition, the ‘combined’ jersey as well as running Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke a very close second in the King of the Mountains – said.
“It’s true there are some very hard finishes left like Fuente Dé and the Bola del Mundo, and the stages to Valladolid and Segovia [La Lastrilla] are not easy either but the toughest ones are behind us now.
“I didn’t get much of an advantage today on Contador, but I got a
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