Joaquim Rodriguez could be on track to take his first ever Grand Tour victory at the age of 36, but he will need to ride the time trial of his life if he is to retain the race lead for more than one stage.
'Purito' attacked in the dying metres of the Vuelta a Espana's 16th Stage to gap former race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) and take the red jersey with a one-second margin.
"It was such a tough stage," said Rodriguez. "The last two climbs were so difficult. It was difficult to set a rhythm up there. Now I’ll have to try and recover for the time trial."
Indeed, the danger man for the general classification is Giant-Alpecin's Tom Dumoulin, a noted time triallist who limited his losses on Stage 16 to trail the red jersey by 1 minute and 51 seconds. Rodriguez agreed that Dumoulin was a major threar.
“Dumoulin looked good today, even better than yesterday, and he will have a recovery day tomorrow before the time trial Wednesday. We can all expect he will have a very good ride," Rodriguez said.
"I need to do a super chrono and I will give my maximum."
Rodriguez is clearly very aware this could be his last serious chance to win a Grand Tour, vowing to fight until the finish in Madrid.
"Everything is still possible in this Vuelta," he said. My 1-second margin does not excite me but in the end this Vuelta has already brought me more than I expected: a stage win and the red leader's jersey.
"My final goal is to arrive at the overall podium in Madrid, so why not on the highest step of the podium?"
Aru paid tribute to Rodriguez after the stage, admitting that the Katusha rider was the better man on the day.
"To be honest in the last kilometres I was just following Purito – he was going very fast, we tried to control him, but we weren’t able to match him today," said Aru.
The Astana leader is not a strong time triallist and is likely to lose more time on Wednesday to both Rodriguez and Dumoulin. However, it's not inconceivable that he and his team could spring a surprise in the lumpy stages following the race against the clock.
"Soon we’ll have a very important time trial and one second is neither here nor there. That’s how it is. I have to recover, try and get something back in the legs tomorrow, and then see."