“I went from feeling empty to feeling good to feeling empty again,” was how up-and-coming Spanish racer and GC contender Carlos Rodriguez said he felt on the Les Praeres climb, after a topsy-turvy first week of the Vuelta a España for himself and his Ineos Grenadiers squad.
Ninth on each of the three summit finishes in the Vuelta so far, Rodriguez‘s consistency has seen him remain in fourth place on Sunday even while his three other teammates with potential GC aspirations have fallen back.
2020 Vuelta runner-up Richard Carapaz had a rough first ascent of Pico Jano and has since slumped out of GC contention. Then Pavel Sivakov suffered on the Colláu Fancuaya and finally Tao Geoghegan Hart, fifth overall on Saturday, was unlucky enough to crash on Sunday on the approach to Les Praeres, and lost over six minutes as a result.
The 22-year-old Spanish National Champion admitted that he had an uneven ride on Les Praeres, and had been overly ambitious early on. But he came through the stage with a strong enough finale to remain in fourth overall.
“It was a pretty tough finish, I think more than I expected. I started going very strong early on the climb, and then it just felt like it was never going to end,” Rodriguez said. “Finally I lost valuable time to Remco, but I was also going well compared to other rivals.”
His feelings on Les Praeres, he said, varied wildly. “I went from empty to feeling good to feeling empty again. We had to take it steadily today, and I didn’t go at the optimal pace because I went too deep at the beginning wanting to stay with the best.
“That made me push more than was necessary, but I’m happy to have stayed with the other rivals, and now I need to recover and look towards the second week.”
Rodriguez recognised that he was doing well, but pointed to his team has had some major misfortune, too, on stage 9.
“Tao [Geoghegan Hart] was unlucky, falling like that. I hope he gets through OK, and that he hasn’t hurt himself too badly,” he said.
Meantime, the focus on leading on GC for Ineos Grenadiers has now fallen on Rodriguez’s shoulders.
And in words that echoed those used by his even younger compatriot Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), currently running fifth overall, Rodriguez said that he had no idea how far he could go on GC, and he would stay ambitious, but that “whatever comes, comes.”
“Being on the podium in a Grand Tour would be a dream come true… but if I crash out and come last I also have to be happy, as long as I have given it everything I have,” he concluded.