By Andrew Hood
Fred Rodriguez is the U.S.’s best hope for a world championship title in the elite men’s road race. The Domo-Farm Frites rider had an awesome spring, finishing second at Milan-San Remo and Ghent-Wevelgem, but struggled through the Tour de France after coming down with bronchitis during a trip home to the United States in June.
Rodriguez, 29, now says he’s fully recovered and believes he has as good a chance as anyone to win at Zolder, a course that’s been hyped as the “sprinters” worlds since it was revealed. VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood spoke with Rodriguez by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Here are excerpts from their conversation:
VeloNews: How has your preparation gone?
Fred Rodriguez: I’ve done what the rest of the Euro’s peloton has done. I’ve done a lot of one-day races in Italy and then the Giro di Lucca. It’s been perfect and I feel good. Today I went on a three-hour training ride and I was floating on the pedals. VN: Did you take a break after the Tour?
FR: I stayed in Spain. I got sick before the Tour and I dug myself a little too deep, so I had to refocus and find my rhythm. I was pushing it too hard for Tour de Suisse so I could make the Tour team. I knew the Tour was important, I gambled and I rode myself too hard. I probably came back a little too early. During the Tour I knew I wasn’t 100 percent. It’s been an up and down late summer, but I’ve finally found my form just in time for the worlds. VN: Why did you skip GP San Francisco?
FR: It was a race that didn’t fit into my schedule. I was during the time two big classics in September — Paris-Brussels and GP de Fourmies – and I’ve always done well at those races. They’re right under World Cup category. San Francisco is a race that my team wasn’t going to send anybody. It was not the right timing. It worked out perfect last year. VN: It’s been a long season for you, racing since spring. Is it hard to maintain focus and strength until the worlds?
FR: It can be hard, especially when you try to peak for the Classics. It’s kind of luck of the draw – if you peak too high, you sometimes have a big fall, but it’s hard to maintain a high level. Some riders try to maintain good form all year-round, but then you might be sacrificing some big results.
VN: When did you decide to race worlds?
FR: With it being such a long season, I started racing in January, I never knew where I was going to be now. After having such a poor summer where I felt I couldn’t perform to my ability, I decided to start looking to the late season races and the worlds were the perfect target.
VN: Do you know the Zolder course?
FR: Yes, I rode it with some Domo teammates, Tom Boonen (U.S. Postal Service rider from Belgium) and some other guys who live around there. It looks like a fairly simple course, but it can be a very difficult race.
A lot of riders will be tired and it will be an up and down race. A lot of riders will be interested in seeing it come down to a sprint, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I will be looking for a move that comes down in the end of the race, in the last 50 kilometers. You can only gamble on certain moves, when more of the superstars are going to be there. If it’s an early break, it may not be in my interest.
VN: Would you rather have it come down to a sprint?
FR: I was racing with Cipollini last week (Giro di Lucca) and there was a stage with two big climbs in the last 50 km, Cipo was there with about 40 or 50 guys who made it. He wasn’t as fast as everyone expected him to be. The world’s is not going to be a race where his teammates can keep him that protected.
It’s not like the Tour or the Vuelta where he can sit around and then just pour it on. He’s going to spend a lot of energy to be there. I think after 270 kilometers, I’m one of the fastest guys in the peloton. I’m not against it coming down to a sprint, but I’m not against being a player in the last 50 kilometers, either. I will want to attack with the strongest guys making the race.
VN: How confident are you?
FR: I feel that I’m as confident as all the big players, as the rest of the leaders of their country. I’ll do the best I can but I come with one goal and that’s to win.
VN: Are you confident in the U.S. team?
FR: I’d like to see more guys capable of pulling off 270 kilometers. It’s hard to do that at the worlds. I’ve been racing the last four weeks, 250- 260-km days, back to back to back. It’s hard to come off the U.S. circuit and have that behind you and to be able to withstand that. I’m hoping that everybody steps up to the plate.
VN: What’s your reaction to the Guido Trenti selection?
FR: His selection’s fine with me. If he had taken a spot from other anybody else, I would be against it. But he might be my strongest worker. He’s said he’s there to help me and help the team. I talked to his teammates, Bortolami and Cipo’, and they told me that Guido is there to help me. It’s not in his best interests to do anything else. He’ll never have chance to race with Italians, this is his first time with the Americans, so he has to prove himself and he has too much to lose to help Cipollini. I think Cipo’ understands that. I’m going to need him to keep the race together as long as possible. VN: Will you race Giro di Lombardia?
FR: No, the world’s is my last race of the year. VN: Have you signed a deal for next year (Rodriguez’ two-year deal with Domo is up at the end of this year)?
FR: I’m still negotiating with some teams, still waiting. A lot of teams are up in the air this year and are waiting longer to sign riders. The market is strange this year and there are a lot of Italian riders up for grabs. I have a lot of options and that’s what’s important.