Road

In Alberta, Fred Rodriguez embarks on final stage race of career

American Fred Rodriguez talks to VeloNews about the Tour of Alberta and retiring from pro cycling.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — Fred Rodriguez begins his final stage race Wednesday, the day before his 42nd birthday and 21 years after a win at the Lancaster Classic in Pennsylvania launched his racing persona as Fast Freddie.

The Colombian-born rider’s career includes participating in all three grand tours, abruptly folding teams, and far-flung sprinting victories from China to Greece to Malaysia. He’s on the eight-rider Jelly Belly squad competing this week in the third Tour of Alberta, and it’s ironic.

A four-time national road race champion, Rodriguez will end his career in his third season season with the longest-sponsored American team, his ninth professional team. Two squads folded while he was on their respective rosters. Among the rider’s other employers, only Lotto-Soudal (formerly Davitamon-Lotto) still exists.

“When Rock Racing folded, I didn’t feel good about the way I was going out,” said Rodriguez, who rode for the controversial short-tenured team in 2008 and 2009. “It felt unnatural in the way I was being forced out.

“But once I got my clothing line up [in 2011] and got some partners to keep it up and going while I was racing, I decided I wanted to go out on my own terms. Of course, Exergy [2011-2012] folded, too. So when Jelly Belly picked me up, everything worked out perfectly. I won nationals and decided after two more years this would be my last race. I can go out on my terms and feel good about it.”

As it turned out, Rodriguez’s fourth national title in 2013 was his last win. He’s ridden an abbreviated schedule since, and he hasn’t raced this season since the Cascade Cycling Classic at the end of July.

“Basically, like I told [general manager Danny van Haute] when I came on board, I am excited to finish off my career with the team and help the young riders,” Rodriguez said. “I really believe that’s what Jelly Belly is about. It’s a stepping stone for these young guys. It’s about showing up at a race like Alberta, showing the Garmins and Treks what they’ve made of and hopefully getting that chance to race in the Tour de France.”

After a diverse collection of wins in five years, Rodriguez rode in the first of his nine grand tours at the Tour de France with Mapei in 2000. He rode in the event seven times, finishing twice. He also completed the Giro d’Italia, where he claimed a stage in 2004, and the 2006 Vuelta a Espana. He withdrew from his last grand tour, the 2007 Tour de France.

“I’ve been thinking about [retirement] and friends bring it up,” said Rodriguez, who moved with his wife and three children from his long-time residence in Emeryville, California, to nearby Berkeley a few years ago. “I’ve kept bikes from Mapei and from the Olympics and Tour de France.

“I’ve kept my Eddy Merckx bikes from winning nationals. I’ve kept my Milan-San Remo bike. I’ve kept all my jerseys and race numbers, so I have a lot of great memories. I can look back and say those are great moments. And now these are great moments.”

Rodriguez claimed four Tour of Georgia stages (2003, 2006, 2007) and his four national road titles span 13 years (2000, 2001, 2004, 2013). In 2003, he finished second to Mario Cipollini in both Milano-Sanremo and Gent-Wevelgem.

Rodriguez will also retire with his last win a source of skepticism. Critics questioned his national road title in Tennessee as an improbable result from a 39-year-old rider who hadn’t won a race in several years.

Rodriguez adamantly defended himself a few days later during a media conference call and moved on.

“I think the sport is doing a better job with its education of young riders,” he said. “Long term, I’d love to see a strong union. We all want a fair game.”

Well aware his retirement begins in less than a week, Rodriguez is targeting the final Tour of Alberta stage, a circuit race in Edmonton.

“When I look at this race, and if I had a dream finish, it would be winning on the last day of my final race,” he said. “It wouldn’t be on my birthday, but those are the kinds of things you think about at the end of a career.”