Talented young Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez remains well within sight of the podium in the Vuelta a España after punching above expectations again with a strong fourth in Tuesday’s crucial individual time trial.
The 21-year-old started out relatively slowly on the flat Alicante course, clocking the twelfth fastest time at the opening checkpoint, 30 seconds down on stage winner and noted specialist Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
But then he went from strength to strength, moving up to sixth at 56 seconds at the second checkpoint and concluding just out of the podium placings for the stage, in fourth at 1:22, at the finish.
In the process, Rodriguez has clawed back nearly 30 seconds on compatriot Enric Mas (Movistar) and is now trailing Mas, who dropped to third overall, by less than a minute.
On an impressive day all round for Ineos Grenadiers, teammate Pavel Sivakov also claimed a fifth place on the stage that moves him up into ninth overall, while Tao Geoghegan Hart has bounced back from his late crash on Sunday to take eighth on the day and become the British team’s third rider in the top ten on GC.
Rodriguez, though, was the top performer in the squad both on the day and remains best-placed Ineos rider overall too, despite being by far the least experienced in Grand Tour racing of all the squad’s GC contenders in the Vuelta a España.
Rodriguez repeatedly said afterwards he was delighted to finish so close behind riders of the calibre of an Olympic Champion like Primož Roglič, who beat him by the comparatively small margin of just over 30 seconds. But he also underlined his main objective remained to stay focussed on enjoying the short-term successes and letting the longer goals take care of themselves.
“I felt very good, but started the stage pretty conservatively because I didn’t want to risk going into the red zone,” Rodriguez told reporters at the line shortly after finishing, “coming in so close to Roglič, I’ve never done such a good time trial as this.
“I was very keen to see how I got on in comparison to the rest, but the important thing is to enjoy it as much as I can and to go on doing that.”
Sivakov confirmed that the team’s strategy for himself and other Ineos riders had been to take the first part of the TT relatively calmly because “we heard a lot of the guys had been overpacing it.
“We’ve worked a lot on my TT position and I think that paid off today as well. I faded a little bit in the finale, I think everybody did, but not as much as a lot of the other guys.”
Like Rodriguez, Sivakov is refusing to look too long-term, saying “I don’t know what to expect further down the line and we’ll see how it goes. Now it’s time to recover and take a cold shower because it was very hot out there.”
But as he observed, the important thing was that in general he is “back in the race and that’s great for the confidence.” Rodriguez, meanwhile, may have stayed where he was overall on GC on Tuesday, but for a rider in his first Grand Tour, that represents another notable step forward.