For three years running, Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez has been one of the stars of the Directeur Sportif Competition (that's FSA DS now, yo). At 26 points, he's no secret and not exactly a bargain. Or he hasn't been. But it's all relative, and this year the man we like to call J-Rod could turn out to be the single most indispensable rider in the high rent district.
Starting tomorrow, Rodriguez goes hunting for very realistic points, in large quantities. J-Rod is at least a conventional favorite for La Fleche Wallonne, with former winner Philippe Gilbert struggling to come in from his own fitness wilderness, and with J-Rod (a/k/a Purito) a two-time defending runner-up in the bunch gallop up Belgium's most beautiful and daunting stretch of tarmac. [You see what I did there, no?] Cadel Evans, the other guy who pipped Purito on the Mur de Huy, is out of the race entirely, and while some other favorites are more clearly in the picture, it's easy to imagine Rodriguez back in position as they hit the 200 meters to go sign.
If he holds form, J-Rod might be in for a breakout FSA DS season. First, let's take a quick look at the big investment guys. As you all know, there is a cap on the number of riders you can have from the 24-and-up pool. Then let's see how J-Rod's season is shaping up. Chez Flip!
Everything is relative. If J-Rod scores 2500 points this year, that's all well and good unless Gilbert goes crazy again and pushes 4000. If Gilbert is off, then the value of J-Rod's score goes up. This is true of any single rider but especially among the high rent guys. That pool consists of a pretty small number of guys, and since nobody can have more than one, your pick form that pool is in absolute competition with all the guys in the group you didn't pick. So let's look at the rest of the bling boys:
- Philippe Gilbert, 36 points. Have you been living under a rock or can we move on?
- Alberto Contador, 30 points. Also a well-known story. Less well-known: he's only on three teams. So he's more or less a non-factor.
- Fabian Cancellara, 26 points. Broken collarbone and all, Cancellara is still an OK bet to recoup much of his value. He's already at 635 points, and an Olympic year means two more BIIIG bites at the apple for Fab, particularly in the crono where you can be virtually assured of podium-level scoring. At best though, he's looking at matching one of his high scores (~2000 points), not shattering it.
- Cadel Evans, 26 points. Terrible bet to match his 2011 season, since he's skipping the Ardennes, where he's been good for as much as 500 points in the past, and since his major goal -- the Tour -- would see him at best matching what he did last time around. Great rider, good bet to do well, but bad bet to do anything more than we've seen him do already.
And Purito. Since graduating from Valverde's valet, Rodriguez has shot up in value, scoring 2000 and 2334 points on his own. He gobbles up points in the Ardennes, Vuelta a Espana and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, with shots at San Sebastian, the fall classics, and even the Tour (in 2010; not sure about this year... are Katusha sticking with the insanity of an all-Russian squad again?).
Right now Rodriguez sits at 457 points, which is better than last year's post-Amstel total of about 300 and roughly 100 points less than his big spring (pre-Fleche) in 2010. In other words, he's about where he should be. His opportunities in the next week look solid. Alejandro Valverde could take Gilbert's place as the heavy at the front of the pack, but Purito's former boss isn't looking super solid just yet. As for the Vuelta, OK, we know Contador will be back and virtually certain to win, but Rodriguez can be counted on for big points -- and did just fine the last two non-Vuelta-winning seasons too.
The FSA DS door is open for J-Rod. His owners, all 98 of them, could be getting a leg up if he pulls out another stellar campaign.
From the Joaquim Rodriguez personal page at Katusha's site:
- Favorite actress: Penelope Cruz. Nothing to argue with here.
- Favorite song: Depress Mode, Personal Jesus. I can think of a handful of better DM songs, let alone the rest of the richer, more beautiful universe of music. And that's before we address the whole "you were five when that came out" angle. Maybe it's a nostalgia thing for him?
- Favorite soccer team: Barcelona. He's Catalan. What do you want him to say, Espanyol? They're 40 points back. Why bother?
- Secret wish: to win the worlds and LBL. A Spaniard dreams of LBL? Just try and not like him now...