• Is Rodriguez in line for one last hurrah? (Getty) (Getty Images/AFP)Source: Getty Images/AFP
Could anyone fault a Joaquim Rodriguez Vuelta a España victory in Madrid this year after all his near misses, asks Al Hinds.
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9 Sep 2015 - 6:41 PM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2015 - 6:53 PM

After two weeks of racing, some 2,500km from Spain's blistering summer heat in the south, through the misty peaks of Andorra, the Pyrenees, and now a final flourish as the race prepares to sweep back toward Madrid, we're left with but three, maybe four riders who can win this year's Vuelta a España.

There's always something cruel in the way a race has to deliver an overall winner, that three weeks of toil from the rest of a Grand Tour field are eclipsed by one rider finishing as little as a few seconds ahead of another, but such is sport. Whether that's Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabio Aru, Tom Dumoulin or perhaps even Rafal Majka, each has earned their standing, and each, in their own way would be deserving winners.

Dumoulin, who's impressed from the outset, has a compelling narrative. An under the radar challenger for overall honours, the Dutchman has proved himself a far more wily Grand Tour rider than first thought, and with just a few days of racing to come need only a solid time trial around Burgos, and then to hold his nerve on the penultimate stage to Cercedilla to make himself a Vuelta winner. Young and determined, Dumoulin is the kind of fresh face the sport would love to embrace, to further sever itself from its inglorious past. 

Majka might be forgotten at Tinkoff-Saxo behind stars like Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, but few can forget the cheek and style with which he rode the 2014 Tour de France, and before that the Giro. This guy's got talent, and having stealthily worked his way into the race's final four, could yet steal the show. The irony of Majka's second class role at Tinkoff could well that he out-shines, or at least matches the team's top star, in Contador at he Giro, and what a story that would be.

Italy's new wonderboy Aru meanwhile - whether he wins this year's Vuetla or not - has firmly cemented himself with his performances this year, and at the Vuelta, as one of the world's premier Grand Tour riders. Over the last two seasons Aru has taken third, fifth, and second in his last three Grand Tours, and is likely to at least add another podium to that list come Madrid. If he wins this year he'll give Astana at least something to think about come next year's Grand Tour schedule, and may stake a claim to be the team's top dog.

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But to me the most deserving of a Vuelta triumph is the old man of the lot, Rodriguez. The Spaniard has always been a rider that fans have flocked to as an underdog. He's emotional, evidenced by his near misses at the World Championships, and previous Grand Tours, and he's always been a thoughtful and considered observer of the sport. Sure he's had his successes, his 2013 Giro di Lombardia win stands out, and his collection of WorldTour points titles, but he's never quite scraped a Grand Tour, and at 36 his time is running out (although tell that to Chris Horner).

For a champion rider, Rodriguez's career has been sadly defined by his near-misses on the biggest stages; 2012 was simply heartbreaking when he was broken by Ryder Hesjedal at the last of that year's Giro, and as spectacular as Alberto Contador's race saving escapade was at that same season's Vuelta, it was equally soul-destroying to watch Rodriguez limp home, shattered behind. 

Rodriguez has a pedigree that is deserving of a Grand Tour win but has never delivered. And while I would not fault Majka, Aru, or Dumoulin a happy ending in Madrid, all three with have other chances. Sport is cruel, and fairytales just that, but it would be just fitting to see Rodriguez get the win his career so sorely deserves.