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Rio: Rodríguez retires on sport’s biggest stage

Spaniard Joaquim Rodríguez finished fifth in Saturday's Olympic road race and then stepped away from the sport.

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RIO DE JANEIRO (VN) — Lost in the mayhem, emotions, and medals of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics was Joaquim Rodríguez.

One of Spain’s major stars quietly put an end to his 17-year racing career. Not quite with the exclamation point he wanted, but fifth place in the Olympic road race was the ideal place to hang up his cleats.

“This is the way I wanted to end my career, racing like I always do, attacking, and trying to win,” Rodríguez said. “I was in for the win, all the way to the end.”

The 37-year-old puncheur came close to the storybook ending he wanted to have on his career. With the race exploding Saturday on the Vista Chinesa climb, Rodríguez clawed his way back into contention after Spain dropped the ball in the most critical part of the race. Italy had played its cards perfectly, with Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali linking up with a teammate going into the third and final lap. Spain was caught snoozing, but Rodríguez went down swinging. After Nibali and Sergio Henao (Colombia) crashed, Rodríguez was second in the chase group to finish fifth.

“It’s a shame because I felt like I had a medal in my legs,” Rodríguez said. “I always said I wanted to retire here.”

With Rodríguez’s exit, the sun is starting to set on the golden era of Spanish cycling. Others of his generation — Samuel Sánchez, Alberto Contador, and Alejandro Valverde — are also entering their final years. Between the four of them, they dominated the peloton, winning on some of cycling’s most important dates.

Nicknamed “Purito,” Rodríguez was tenacious as he was prolific. He won stages across all three grand tours and earned podium finishes in those races as well. He won one-week stage races, including the Tour of the Basque Country, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Vuelta a Burgos. He won the Giro di Lombardia twice and Fleche Wallonne.

He’ll also be remembered for what he didn’t win just as much for what he did. He never won a grand tour, folding against Contador in the 2012 Vuelta a España, and underestimating Ryder Hesjedal in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

His bitterest defeat came in the 2013 world championships, when Rui Costa caught him in the closing kilometers to snatch away the rainbow jersey. A tearful Rodríguez stood on the podium and couldn’t hold back his emotion.

There were no tears Saturday in Rio. Instead, Rodríguez left with his trademark smile firmly in place and his head held high.

“No regrets,” he said. “This is how I wanted to go out, as a bike racer. The Olympics are the high point of sport. This is how I want to end my career.”