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By Andrew Hood
It’s been a season of close calls and falls for Fred Rodriguez.
The three-time U.S. champion has piled up a armload of seconds and thirds as well as gotten caught up in his fair share of pile ups this season, including one that sent him tumbling out of the Tour de France.
Rodriguez, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Sunday, is back in action at the Vuelta a España where he’s looking for a stage victory to save what he’s called a “sour season.”
The Californian came into the Vuelta to help teammate Robbie McEwen to hunt for a stage victory in the first week. The Aussie sprinter missed the time cut in stage 5, opening the door for Rodriguez to take over in the sprints.
A string of race-winning breakaways have stolen the spotlight the past few stages, but the Davitamon-Lotto rider is biding his time to try to upset the favorites in the fast finishes.
VeloNews recently caught up with Rodriguez to reflect on the 2006 season, his goals for the Vuelta and why he loves racing in the world championships. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews.com: How was the recovery from the Tour crash?
Fred Rodriguez: I was out for a couple of weeks. I took two weeks off the bike after dislocating my shoulder. It really set me back, but now I’ve got my motivation back. I had two weeks where I couldn’t ride at all and then it was another two weeks where I could get my body to feel normal again. My form isn’t 100 percent, but I am getting better and better. Maybe I even have better form than at the Tour.
VN: Did you stay in Europe or return to the United States?
FR: I stayed in Spain. It was good to hang out with the family a little bit. My family has been over here the whole season. I saw Hayden (his son) take his first step. That was pretty exciting because we’re away from home so much as bike races that we miss a lot of big moments like that. He said his first real word last week. His first word was ‘hola.’ It’s nice to be around for that.
VN: What did you race before the Vuelta?
FR: I went to the Tour of Denmark, but I crashed there for the very same reason as the Tour. The roads weren’t safe, just like at the Tour. I was really upset after crashing again and I had a half-hour discussion with one of the commissaries, asking who is responsible for our safety? Everyone seems to be just passing the buck.
VN: What caused you to crash at Denmark?
FR: They were running the stage through a bike path and small roads next to the ocean. They had filled in part of the road with rocks and I was about 20 riders back and by the time I came through, the rocks had all been kicked out. Riders were just piling up. Then I crashed again coming into a construction zone in Girona. I was barreling around a corner and came onto a work site. I’ve had three crashes this season because of road problems.
VN: What are you goals for the Vuelta?
FR: I am pretty motivated to try to win a stage. I’m hoping for a chance. I’m getting more confident and I am feeling better. The later stages of the Vuelta should suit me well. This is my second Vuelta. I rode in 2003 with Vini Caldiroli. I got a lot of seconds and thirds. I think I deserved one victory that year. I was close by (Alessandro) Petacchi ran me into the fences one day. I like the race. I know there’s a good chance for me here.
VN: Will you save yourself for the sprints or try to get away in a break?
FR: You can count me out of a breakaway. If you add up the odds, it’s just not worth it. I’m a sprinter, so the odds of a break letting me get away are slim. The odds of a break staying away are pretty slim anyway. The odds are against me. So I will try in the sprints.
VN: You were sick during the classics and crashed out of the Tour, who would you rate your season?
FR: Other than the Tour of Georgia or California, I’ve really had a sour season. I’ve just had bad luck. I was sick during the classics. I crashed in the Tour. That kind of sums up my season. I want to have a solid month of good racing to try to do something.
VN: A lot of your compatriots don’t seem to like the world’s being so late, but you’ve consistently raced in them, you’re going back again this year?
FR: I’ve always enjoyed the world’s. It’s like an Olympics. You ride for the national team. It’s a special feeling. And the world’s are such a big race. You can tell with the crowds. Even racing so late in the year, it’s a special event.
VN: What’s your schedule like after Vuelta?
FR: I will race the world’s. I will be going more as a teammate. Chris (Horner) is going as well. He’s getting better and it’s a course that’s well suited for him. He’ll be a contender. After that I will be going to Vegas for the trade show, doing some work with my foundation and to promote my coffee. Then I will come back to Paris-Tours to ride for Robbie (McEwen). It’s a tight schedule, but I want to finish the season strong.