Last season, Rodriguez, one of the nicest and most underrated riders in the pro peloton, finished a heartbreaking second place at the Giro d’Italia and a crushing third at the Vuelta a España. In both instances, he looked to have the wins in the bag but gave up crucial seconds in the closing days. Some will look at those results and say that the Spaniard doesn’t have what it takes to clinch a Grand Tour title, but don’t write him off in this mountainous edition. His past near-misses (he was third at the 2011 Vuelta, too) have surely fueled the fire to move up to the top step of the podium, and his ability to launch fast-paced attacks on extremely steep terrain is nearly unmatched and could see him picking up small chunks of time that add up to an insurmountable lead over three weeks.
He’s also spent time in the wind tunnel in recent years to improve his time trialing, evidenced by a respectable 7th place finish in last year’s stage 11 Vuelta ITT. And though he doesn’t have the strongest team in the race, there’s a likelihood of an on-the-road alliance with the other Spaniards looking to depose Team Sky. Finally, at age 34, Rodriguez surely knows this is his last, best chance at winning the Tour, which could serve as the extra motivation he needs.