Team Ineos continues on its youth movement with the signing of 18-year-old Carlos Rodríguez to a four-year WorldTour contract. Like many young riders turning pro very early, the highly touted Rodríguez jumps straight from the junior ranks to the WorldTour.
Some are already calling him the Spanish version of Remco Evenepoel, the teenaged Belgian who was one of the sensations of the 2019 season.
Speaking to Radio Marca, the Spanish all-rounder admitted he’s got a lot to learn.
“Remco is not my rival, even though he might be in the future. He’s already at another level,” Rodríguez said. “My goal now is to learn and to help my teammates.”
Rodríguez and Evenepoel know each other from the junior ranks, when Evenepoel won the European junior road championship in 2018 in a solo breakaway, with Rodríguez taking bronze. Barely a year later, Evenepoel is already an established WorldTour pro, while Rodríguez makes an equally extraordinary jump to join Team Ineos.
So how good is he? His test numbers must be extraordinary. The four-year deal is among the longest that Ineos has offered to any rider. Only Tour de France champion Egan Bernal was signed to a five-year contract.
“To join this team is a dream come true,” Rodríguez said. “Ineos is the team of reference in the international peloton. If we compare it to [soccer], it would be like signing with Real Madrid or FC Barcelona.”
Rodríguez is the latest rider to come out of the development team backed by ex-pros Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso, with the Alberto Contador Foundation, racing in 2020 as Kometa-Xstra in 2020. Only yesterday, team manager Fran Contador, the older brother of the retired star, cautioned about younger riders turning pro very early and against new rules that could undermine the future of development teams across the peloton.
For Rodríguez, who turns 19 in February, it was an opportunity he could not miss.
“Ineos is betting a lot on young riders,” Rodríguez said. “It already has [Pavel] Sivakov and Bernal. That was without a doubt a big factor in signing with them. I’m in the best hands, and I want to do the best I can.”
The pair join a team with a number of talented young riders including Bernal (22), Sivakov (22), and Filippo Ganna (23). Bernal’s Tour de France win made him the third-youngest Tour de France winner in history.
Right now, Rodríguez said he will be allowed to race and develop without pressure to perform, citing the four-year contract that will give him space to progress.
Rodríguez is part of a new generation of younger riders who are stepping up to help fill the void in the Spanish peloton left by the likes of Contador and Joaquim Rodríguez, who also recently retired. Alejandro Valverde, 40 in April, rides on, and riders such as Enric Mas and Marc Soler, both with Movistar in 2020, are also expected to step up next season.