By Andrew Hood
When all was said and done, only Mario Cipollini was faster than reigning U.S. champion Fred Rodriguez in the hotly contested 93rd Milan-San Remo on March 23. It was a dazzling result for the multi-lingual American now in his second season with Domo-Farm Frites. VeloNews’s Andrew Hood spoke with Rodriguez from his home in Girona, Spain, on Monday about the race and his expectations for the 2002 season.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
How did you celebrate your ride at Milan-San Remo?
“We drove back to Spain, not very exciting. My wife and Floyd Landis’s wife came over and we all drove back to Girona Saturday night. We stopped at McDonald’s, which is something we don’t get to do very often during the racing season.”
Did you except to do so well at Milan-San Remo?
“I’ve been working really hard this season. I really want to have a good World Cup season. My forte for the future is going to be the World Cup races. I’ve felt that that was where I was going to shine. I was training so hard, but I wasn’t sure where my form was going to be. At some of the early races this year, my form wasn’t as good as I hoped. I felt so good at Milan-San Remo. It was a bit of a surprise. I started racing at Luis Puig, Valencia, some small races in Belgium and Tirreno-Adriatico. The whole time I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, but by the last stage of Tirreno-Adriatico I was feeling real good and I went for a
stage-win. Cipollini won and I was just out of position, but it gave me a lot of confidence and put some confidence in me for the team.”
Why weren’t you originally on the Milan-San Remo start list?
“The team wasn’t sure who was going to go because we have such a big roster. It’s going to be real tight at all the big races to get named to race. I was always expecting to go to Milan-San Remo, but for some reason they took me off. I didn’t panic. My wife asked me if we should take it off my schedule on my web page. I said leave it on there because I knew I was going. Romans (Vainstains) was out, so they added me and put some extra pressure on me as a leader.
“Milan-San Remo is such a difficult race. Besides Zabel, who you know is going to be good, you really have no idea what’s going to happen. I was feeling really good all day.”
What impact will the strong finish have for you for the Classics?
“I think it gives me a lot of confidence with the Classics and with the team. If things keep going like they are, I just have to roll with it. That’s how it is with me. I have to keep going and peak for the right events. To get the team to believe in me, I know I have to get some strong results, so it was important to do well at Milan-San Remo. Now we’ve started off in the right direction.”
What’s your schedule look like in the coming weeks?
“I’ll do Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, both for the first time. I’ll probably skip Fleche (Wallone) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, then Amstel Gold. Then I will take a short break and prepare for the U.S. championships and then the Tour. I won’t do the Giro.”
Besides the big win at the U.S. championships, last year didn’t go as well as you hoped. What happened?
“I tried a lot of different things last season (2001). Last winter (2000-2001) I tried to create more muscle mass and I did a lot of work in the gym. I showed up to training camp weighing more than I ever have. I paid for it all season long. I was kind of panicked and I pushed it too hard sometimes. I got sick early in the season, too.
“But I’ve learned from that. I’ve learned to listen to myself more. You always get pressure from the top to get results. I’ve learned to be more patient and not get stressed. I put in a lot more miles on the bike this winter.”
Does the team have confidence in you that you can compete in the Classics?
“It was pretty risky that I wanted to be a big player on this team. I was asking for a lot and now they’re starting to believe in me. It’s going to take a little time. You have to know these courses and how to prepare for them. Now I know how I should prepare for these kinds of races. I’ve learned I can treat it like I prepare for Philadelphia. A lot of the World Cups are just like Philadelphia. It’s like threading the needle, knowing when to conserve your strength, where you feel comfortable. You have to be smart and calculating. You have to be watching the other riders. There’s that one window of opportunity and you have to be perfect for that window.”
After winning two straight U.S. titles, what does it mean to you to have a chance to win another?
“The jersey means a lot to me. It makes me proud to wear it. It’s become kind of my signature in a way. People recognize me, ‘Hey, there’s Rodriguez, the U.S. champion.’ I’d love to keep it. I’m just hoping for the best.”
What thought have you put into the worlds?
“That’s something on my mind, way back on my mind right now. We’ll see how things are going after the Tour.”
Your contract ends with Domo at the end of this season. Have you started talking about contracts?
“I haven’t thought about that yet. When the time comes, I’ll consider my options. I am happy where I am. I’m a very versatile rider. I speak a lot of languages. I can be happy on an American team. I can be happy on an Italian team or on a Spanish team. I can fit just about anywhere. I’ve never seen that an as obstacle. I want the team that’s most interested in me.”