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Señor Cuarto

José Joaquín Rojas celebrates but it’s Movistar’s jefe Alejandro Valverde who wins the stage in the Volta a Catalunya, collecting the helpful 10 second time bonus. Valverde is no stranger to winning, in his early years he was called El Imbatido, the unbeaten one. Rojas by contrast is admired and even mocked for finishing fourth so often. Is it true he’s the king of fourth place, the chocolate medallist specialist?

It’s true, Rojas is Señor Cuarto. So far in his 11 year career he has finished in the top-10 of a race 258 times with nine wins but 43 fourth places. The chart above ignores team time trials and only counts actual placings, it strips out aggregate results like 4th overall in a stage race or 6th in the points competition: only the finishing position in a stage or one day race that is counted. The Spaniards say the fourth placed finisher gets the medalla de chocolate, the chocolate medal after gold, silver and bronze.

Start as you mean go on: Rojas’s first race as a pro was the Vuelta a Extremadura. Riding as a stagiaire for the dodgy Liberty Seguros team he was second on the opening day, fourth on Stage 2, second again on Stages 3 and 4 and finished the race second overall.

Worth his weight in points: The wins are rare but he can rack up the points thanks to the consistency and currently sits 43rd on the UCI World Tour rankings. Movistar have little to fear when it comes to relegation from the World Tour but he’s a valuable prospect for any team looking over their shoulder.

Frustration? In a recent interview with ciclismoafondo Rojas was asked if he despairs at all the second places? “No, never. I am the most stubborn person in the world” he replied.

Spanish sprinter: an oxymoron? Rojas is the latest in a line of Spaniards who can finish fast but climb too, think Miguel Poblet or Óscar Freire and see team mate Juan José Lobato. Coincidence? No, many races on the Spanish amateur calendar have a hill to climb and in order to rise up the ranks a rider has to be able to rise up the hills too. An 80kg hulk in a Spanish not going to harvest the same results they’d get if they lived in the Netherlands.

There’s variation within this category. Rojas is more than a fast finisher, he’s able to work for Valverde and Nairo Quintana in the mountains and told ciclismoafondo that Lobato is more of pure sprinter.

The Wins: he’s averaging less than one win a year. Here they are:

  • Tour of Qatar, Stage 1 : Dukhan – Sealine Beach, 2015
  • Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Stage 1 : Ciudad Rodrigo – Zamora, 2014
  • Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Stage 1 : Gueñes – Gueñes, 2012
  • National Championships Spain (Castellon de la Plana) R.R., 2011
  • Volta a Catalunya, Stage 6 : Tarragona – Mollet del Valles, 2011
  • Trofeo Deia, 2011
  • Tour de l’Ain, Stage 2 : Trévoux – Oyonnax, 2009
  • Trofeo Pollença, 2008
  • Vuelta a Murcia – Costa Calida, Stage 1 : San Pedro del Pinatar – Las Torres de Cotilla, 2007

If he’s so regular why doesn’t he win more points jerseys? It’s a strange one. He’s only ever won one points jersey competition, the Tour of Poland in 2007 and took the mountains jersey in the 2006 Tirreno-Adriatico too. Fittingly he’s been runner-up and placed, for example second in the 2011 Tour de France points competition behind Mark Cavendish, fourth in the same competition in 2009.

I wanted to see of the Mr Fourth Place label was true and it is, he’s a regular in the top-10 but the distribution is skewed towards fourth place with strong consistency. It’s tempting to mock this, to diagnose a case of bathmophobia, a fear of stepping onto the podium but his record is impressive. He’s only 29 there must be more fourth places to come.

Besides he is more than Mr Fourth Place and if Nairo Quintana triumphs in the Tour this summer it’s likely that Rojas will have played a big part, whether shepherding him on the opening stages or doing work in the mountains. If so, Rojas will stand on the top step for a change.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John LeG Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:11 pm

    Bathmophobia!! Wonderful, thanks. I shall work it into a conversation today…

  • Ablindeye Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:13 pm

    A running theme on many forums it’s good to get the specifics that have contributed to, what turns out to be, an accurate perception.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:14 pm

    Nice piece

  • Cilmeri Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:15 pm

    This is great, but what I really want to see is an analysis of Greg Van Avermaet’s second places….

    (An interesting article on a cyclist I know little about, thanks)

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:24 pm

      What happens if Rojas and GVA are in a 2-up breakaway and with 1km to go they have a 10 minute lead on the bunch?

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:32 pm

        In a similar vein, after the 2014 Australian nationals where Richie Porte lost out in the final kick to Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans, Porte joked he knew that in sprint between the three of them he’d finish fourth.

      • Shawn Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:36 pm

        No doubt both would come down in a crash and fail to finish.

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 3:01 pm

          I think one would crash, and the other would get busted for dealing with a dodgy doctor.

      • Nation Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 3:20 pm

        Throw Sagan in that and the possibilities are endless!

        • Anonymous Thursday, 26 March 2015, 8:20 am


      • alex 2 Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 10:12 pm

        I think they will surplace for 10 minutes

    • Adam Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:43 pm

      GVA does come second a lot, but, if you summed the best placing for any rider for the five momuments – i.e. winning all five would give you five points – GVA is the current leader in the peloton.
      Great article. Reminds me of a similar piece in Irish Cycling a few years ago on a revisionist history of sprinting without Cavendish. I think the conclusion was that no one had more 2nds of Cav than Farrar over a three year period.

  • ShortsNL Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:26 pm

    Ideally you should compare his placings graph to that of other sprinters to see if he really has more 4th places (both in the relative and absolute sense) than the rest of the peloton, and to be therefore be rightfully called ‘Senor cuatro’ (by the way the article header says cuarto).

    Interesting analysis nevertheless, funny to see how 4th place truely is his most frequent top10 position.

    • jkeltgv Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:34 pm

      cuatro is 4 (cardinal numbering)
      cuarto is 4th (ordinal numbering)

      as usual, Inrng is right!

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:37 pm

      Ideally I’d have hours to crunch these numbers but sadly not today. It’s also hard to do, Rojas is mid-career but has been a pro for a long time, a rich set of data but maybe not the same for others.

      • Dr Manhattan Thursday, 26 March 2015, 9:10 am

        An idea for a site like procyclingstats.com, perhaps, to add a function for producing histograms as above?

    • Dr Manhattan Thursday, 26 March 2015, 9:46 am

      The histogram looks like a Poisson distribution around an average placing of 4th.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 1:33 pm

    I finished fourth in my first race. Never managed to do that well since so I say fair play to the man.

    Coming fourth repeatedly in good races or winning chippers? Which would you rather have on your palmares?

  • Larry T. Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 2:01 pm

    Entertaining piece, thanks! Stuff like this is what sets you apart from the rest.

  • Alpen Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 2:18 pm

    So did you have the idea for the column before or after the twitter yesterday? 😉 @Alpen_R

    • Alpen Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 2:22 pm

      The frequency of 4ths is truly amazing though, I guess he loves his chocolate! At least Poulidor got paid for all his 2nds.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 2:51 pm


  • TourDeUtah Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 5:21 pm

    I have been a fan of his Senor Cuatro for many yerars and keep rooting for him to break through. You would think Val would have eased up and let him win one due to his unselfish turns as a domestique : ((

    Rojas plight was magnified at last years Paris-Nice where he finished 4-10-4-4-no placing-14-4 for each stage. Finished 4th on GC and 4th on points.

    Keep plugging away JJ !

    • gabriele Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 6:15 pm

      Valverde tried, but the victory was at risk: he slowed down, watching behind, then took speed again because the duel between Rojas and Elmiger was really a close one (Valverde said in the following interview that “he didn’t know Rojas was there”, but it seems hard to believe). Rojas celebrated… his teammate victory … or his own 2nd place… raising arms (note that it was no photofinish for 1st place), then congratulated Valverde with an apparently serene and sincere tweet. The two share room and training, they’re close friends. Maybe Valverde was just sparing his pal an attack of bathmophobia 😉 Hence, Rojas’ enthusiasm!

  • J Evans Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 8:19 pm

    Well, Rojas can certainly learn from the master when it comes to not taking victories.
    How many more races would Valverde have won if he rode with more bravery?
    He almost never takes the risk – always playing the cagey game, waiting for others to do the work.
    I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s done this, whilst watching a braver rider go off into the distance and take the win.
    Hence, his incredible number of top five finishes.
    I don’t know the stats – obviously – but I reckon the rider who goes for it probably has a stastistically better chance of victory than the guy who rides tactically. They seem to win more often.
    As we saw in both of today’s races, riders so often ride ‘tactically’ resulting in one guy riding away with it without even being chased – and so disappointing to watch (both good races today; both ended drearily).
    But then Valverde would risk all those 2nds and 3rds he seems to hold so dear.
    I’d have thought – certainly by now – he would think that he has enough podium spots and go for the win.

    • billiam Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 9:27 pm

      Wow! To cast Valverde (Grand Tour winner, a hatfull of Classics & several times overall UCI points leader) as a loser seems wildly acrimonious.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 9:33 pm

      Surely this must be a joke by J.Evans? This simply can’t be a serious take on Valverdes career!

    • J Evans Thursday, 26 March 2015, 7:50 am

      Yup, you’re right. He hasn’t had lots of 2nds and 3rds.

    • J Evans Thursday, 26 March 2015, 9:54 am

      At no point did I ‘cast Valverde as a loser’.
      My contention is that if he rode more bravely (as he did in last year’s San Sebastian), he’d win more races and have fewer placings.
      Just looking at recent World Championships:
      2012 – doesn’t help in chasing Gilbert, seemingly hoping others will do the work and he can win the sprint. 3rd.
      2012 – doesn’t help in chasing Rui Costa, seemingly hoping Nibali will do the work and he can win the sprint. 3rd. (He later claimed to be tired, but this seems unlikely as he was one of the last four and is one of the best hilly classics riders of a generation.)
      2014 – doesn’t help in chasing Kwiatkowski, seemingly hoping others will do the work and he can win the sprint. 3rd.
      His reliance on this one tactic seems to be a trait from his later career:
      Classics and WCs since 2012: two 1sts; five 2nds; six 3rds.
      Critiquing someone’s tactics isn’t decrying their talent entirely.

      • The Inner Ring Thursday, 26 March 2015, 10:44 am

        That’s better, thanks, I can see a clearer explanation of what you mean. You can go back further with the worlds too, he’s been very regular but never won. Elsewhere he’s won plenty but does have a reputation for being cagey in a race, prepared to lose in order to win.

        • MultiplexRant Thursday, 26 March 2015, 1:24 pm

          Perhaps because his ambitions have tended to skew more toward stage-racing?

          Fair to say that he’s taken risks beyond the tactical sphere though.

  • alex 2 Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 10:20 pm

    Raymond Poulidor He was known as the eternal second, because he never won the Tour de France despite finishing in second place three times, and in third place five times ( Wiki)

    What would be more frustrating. Being Mr 2nd or Mr 4th ???

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 10:28 pm

      Poulidor was famous as the “eternal second” but still won many races, with the Vuelta, Milan-Sanremo, double wins in Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné, the now defunct Grand Prix du Midi Libre, 11 stage wins in the Tour and more. Still, he too had a strange distribution of races, far more second places than first or third.

      • AK Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 10:55 pm

        I guess the difference between the distributions is a consequence of the UCI points system, in the old days selling third and second places wasn’t very lucrative. 😉

        • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 11:02 pm

          Indeed and it’s regularly been said Poulidor could have won more if he’d paid his team mates and rivals more.

          • Joe K. Thursday, 26 March 2015, 3:25 am

            Are they still paying off riders these days? If so, then Sagan should have given a few more kroners to Breschl before this years MSR.

      • UHJ Thursday, 26 March 2015, 9:38 am

        If you go by his Wiki-page, in the Tour Pou-Pou actually took 1 more 3rd than he did 2nds: 4 vs. 3.
        Another time, another era; Ulrich took 6 x 2nd in the Tour. Talk about frustration (despite PEDs)

        • gabriele Thursday, 26 March 2015, 12:19 pm

          “…but some are more enhanced than others…”
          I wonder how that plays in terms of frustration. Even more frustration? More acceptation?

  • J Thursday, 26 March 2015, 3:31 am

    Nice piece, with friend w used to mock about it too. I must say, however, that you got José Joaquín’s surname wrong, it’s Roj4s

  • ave Thursday, 26 March 2015, 11:24 am

    Wow, what a nice piece! Not many would have thought about writing about this. Just lovely!! 🙂

  • MC Thursday, 26 March 2015, 12:57 pm

    Good article!
    Only one correction. When JJ Rojas got his first results as a pro in Vuelta a Extremadura, he was only an amateur cyclist. He could participate in that race becouse it was a .2 competicion an his amateur team was invited. You can see that thay race was in april and the stagieres are added to the pro teams in august.

  • Louis Thursday, 26 March 2015, 5:40 pm

    Another statistical tidbit: looking at his wins he does seem to be somewhat of a Stage 1 specialist, with four of his six stage wins being on stage 1 of races.

  • Othersteve Thursday, 26 March 2015, 5:59 pm

    What detail, only here with our host and moderator Inrng.