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Joaquim Rodríguez is winding down his career, but fans and media alike were surprised that the Spaniard said last weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián would be his final race in Spain.
If so, that means Katusha’s Rodríguez won’t ride the Vuelta a España as expected, putting an abrupt end to racing on home roads for the popular puncheur.
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“I enjoyed racing my last race in Spain,” Rodríguez said after finishing fourth. “The climb was super, and the fans were cheering for me. This is most likely my last race ever in Spain.”
Had fans knows that the one-day Clásica would be his final race in Spain, they might have cheered even more.
The 37-year-old, one of Spain’s most endearing and competitive racers, confirmed during a tearful press conference last month at the Tour de France that he would retire at the end of this season.
His comments Saturday, however, caught many by surprise. Rodríguez was expected to race the Vuelta following his trip to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His final race is likely to be the Giro di Lombardia, a race he won back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, but to say the Clásica was his Spanish farewell was a shock.
“That was a nice goodbye,” Rodríguez said. “I really enjoyed it, despite the suffering of the climb. I am sorry I missed the podium, but in the end, three were faster than me.”
Rodríguez, nicknamed “Purito” because he looked like the short stumpy cigars that are smoked in Spain, was a key member of the post-Indurain generation that sustained Spanish cycling at the top levels over the past decade and a half.
Along with Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, and Samuel Sánchez, Rodríguez was always a protagonist in nearly every race he started that suited him.
In a career spanning from 2001 to 2016, Rodríguez won nearly 50 races, and raced in 24 grand tours. With third in the 2013 Tour de France, he completed a streak of reaching the podium in the consecutive grand tours he raced (Giro, Vuelta, Tour).
In addition to twice winning Lombardia, Rodríguez also won nine stages at the Vuelta, three at the Tour, the overall at the Tour of the Basque Country in 2015, and Flèche Wallonne in 2012.
He’ll perhaps be haunted by his near-misses, including second to Ryder Hesjedal in the 2012 Giro d’Italia by just 16 seconds, and his heart-break second to Rui Costa in the 2013 worlds, when the Portuguese rider caught the attacking Rodríguez within 2km to go.
Rodríguez will be part of the favored Spanish team for Rio that also includes Valverde, Ion Izagirre, Imanol Erviti, and Jonathan Castroviejo. If he brings home gold, it might be hard to resist racing in front of home fans one more time in the Vuelta.