Happy 33rd birthday: Feliç 33 aniversari.
The linguists among you will have worked out that Joaquim is a Catalan. He was born in Barcelona into a cycling mad family. His father was a keen amateur rider who ran a local cycling team. So, you could say that Joaquim’s a chip off the old block. But, given his petite size, that should probably be a splinter!
He started riding at an early age, as you can see from the photograph and, inspired by his elder brother Victor, soon started racing. His younger brother Alberto was also a professional rider, but neither Victor nor Alberto have enjoyed the same level of success on two wheels as their brother.
His nickname is Purito, meaning ‘little cigar’, a name given to him by his teammates at ONCE when, as a neo pro, he easily overtook them on an incline and mimed smoking a cigar to suggest he was climbing effortlessly. Rumour has it the gesture was not appreciated by his teammates who made him smoke a real cigar after dinner as retribution.
Joaquim started hs racing career with the ONCE feeder squad, Iberdrola, in the Basque country [so that’s why he’s so good on steep climbs – Ed] before passing through the ranks of ONCE, Saunier Duval and Caisse d’Epargne, whom he left in 2010 to become a team leader at Katusha, a shrewd and successful move on his part. He’s recently penned a new deal to keep him there until the end of 2013. He’s won consistently throughout his career but now that he’s a team leader, he’s got greater opportunities and he’s seized them – topping the UCI’s rider rankings in 2010, his first year at Katusha.
He uses his size – 1.69m and 58kg – to good effect and specialises in leaving pretty much everyone standing when he soars away on steep ramps leading to summit or mountain-top finishes. He’s what we might call a grafter. He’s good, but he knows he can get better, and he’s worked on the weaker aspects of his game, particularly time-trialling. His persistence does pay dividends as he finally won La Fleche Wallonne this year – just watch him fly up that slope.
He’s often been undone in Grand Tours because of his lack of time-trialling ability – the 2010 Vuelta comes readily to mind. However, his second place overall in Vuelta al Pais Vasco was off the back of two stage wins – one where he beat Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in a sprint, the other a summit finish – and second place in the concluding time trial. As a consequence, his tilt at the Giro d’Italia title is being viewed very seriously by the tifosi, and the press.
I’m pleased to report that the Rodriguez dynasty is in good hands. Rodriguez Junior, Pablo, the spitting image of his father, is equally determined. Having accompanied his Dad onto the podium when he won stage three at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and received his own leader’s jersey, he was hell-bent on being up there after Rodriguez’s win on stage five, despite the remonstrations of his grandparents. But the clincher was the look on his face as he stood on the runner-up’s step on the last day. He was looking at Samu Sanchez – on the winner’s step – and you could see he was thinking “that’s where I want to be” and that’s where I’m sure he will be not too many years down the line.
Meanwhile, over in the VeloVoices saloon bar, as we watch today’s stage seven of the Giro d’Italia on our HD screen, we’ll be raising a glass of chianti to the birthday boy whose own celebrations are no doubt on hold for another couple of weeks.