Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) goes into the Giro d'Italia's final mountainous run with a slim 30-second lead over Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). It's an uncomfortable advantage given the race ends with a time trial, which suits his rival.
The 33-year-old Spaniard has placed fourth in the Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia, and ninth in the Tour de France. Two years ago when the Tour finished on the Col du Tourmalet, the two rivals proved equally matched on the climbs and finished side-by-sided.
Rodriguez is "always the same, he's always classy and beautiful on the bike," Hesjedal's key helper, Christian Vande Velde told Cycling Weekly. "Most of the guys in the top of the GC look good so it's just going to be who has a good day or who has a bad day, what the weather is like, if it's cold or raining."
Asked about his weaknesses, Vande Velde noted the time trials and longer climbs.
"He needs to make his gap bigger in the mountains, if it stays how it is, Hesjedal is the big favourite for the final victory," Katusha sports director, Valerio Piva told Cycling Weekly.
"Joaquin, on paper, should be suited to these next days, but you never know, you could have an accident or health problems. These guys are all on their limits and the weather is not at its best. Tomorrow, we will see who can win the Giro or not and who is able to make the difference."
The 17th stage tomorrow climbs the Passo Valparola, the Passo Duran and the Passo Giau. It's the first of three high-mountain stages after yesterday's rest day, the final being the finish to the Stelvio Pass on Saturday.
Hesjedal "placed seventh in the Tour, but I don't think he was always with the best climbers," added Piva. "He's here to fight to the end. He fights every day, you think he's dropped and he's still there. I think that's his strong side. But in the steeper part of the climb, he has his limits."
At the finish today, the Canadian was cool and clear about his plans. He said, "I'm just doing my thing and that's it."
Giro d'Italia 2012: Latest news
Cavendish silences Cipollini
Sky tightens grip on white jersey
Rodriguez versus Hesjedal in Giro title fight
Cavendish's Sky lead-out still on learning curve
Orica-GreenEdge to strengthen sprint train in Tour de France
Schleck struggles on with dislocated shoulder
Rodriguez up against more experienced rivals in Giro
Bak from worker to winner at the Giro
Giro d'Italia 2012: Live coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 live text coverage schedule
Giro d'Italia 2012: Stage reports
Stage 15: Rabottini takes tough win in Giro
Stage 14: Amador wins Giro's first high mountain stage as Hesjedal reclaims lead
Stage 13: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 12: Bak attacks to win
Stage 11: Ferrari wins Giro stage on ride to redemption
Stage 10: Rodriguez wins thrilling finale to take leadStage nine: Ventoso wins in Frosinone as Goss and Cavendish fall
Stage eight: Pozzovivo takes another Giro win
Stage seven: Hesjedal moves into Giro lead
Stage six: Rubiano solos to epic Giro stage win
Stage five: Cavendish bounces back for another stage win
Stage four: Garmin-Barracuda win TTT to take lead
Stage three: Goss wins in Horsens as Cavendish and Phinney crash
Stage two: Cavendish wins in Herning
Stage one: Phinney wins time trial
Giro d'Italia 2012: Photo galleries
Stage 15 photo gallery
Stage 14 photo gallery
Stage 13 photo gallery
Stage 12 photo gallery
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
Giro d'Italia 2012: Blogs
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Conserving energy for the final week
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Holding on to the lead
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Getting the team time trial right
Giro moto blog: Hurray for rest day
Giro moto blog: Stage 10
Giro d'Italia 2012: Teams and riders
Giro d'Italia 2012 start list
Giro d'Italia 2012: TV guide
Giro d'Italia 2012: British Eurosport TV schedule
Giro d'Italia 2012: The Big Preview
Cycling Weekly's Giro d'Italia section
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