Rodriguez retreats on retirement, signs one-year deal with Bahrain

Joaquim Rodriguez, 37, decides he'll race for one more season with the controversial upstart team Bahrain – Merida.

Spain’s Joaquim Rodríguez pulled a U-turn on retirement, and confirmed Thursday he will ride with the start-up Bahrain – Merida team for 2017.

The Spanish pocket rocket pulled the plug on his highly prolific career at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, fighting to the end as he always did, finishing fifth. His Katusha team twisted his arm, forcing him to race in three Italian races this fall, but he didn’t finish any of them, preferring to have the Olympic experience leave the lasting imprint on his career.

The start-up Bahrain – Merida team offered Rodríguez, 37, a deal he couldn’t refuse.

“My decision to retire was firm, but the team came with a very interesting project, and I decided to put a race number on my back one more year,” Rodríguez said in a press note. The hook for the deal was that Rodríguez will stay on as a staff member in 2018 and 2019.

There were no details about what races Rodríguez will start, but he will provide additional firepower both for the Ardennes classics and stage races. Rodríguez’s WorldTour points will also come in handy as Bahrain is hoping to debut with a top-level license in its first season in the peloton.

The new team backed by the Bahrain government (which has drawn some criticism from some quarters) will formally announce its 2017 roster later this month, but more than 20 riders have already been confirmed.

The anchor will be Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, so Rodríguez would give the team an extra card to play in the season’s grand tours.

Other top names set to join include Ion Izagirre, Ramunas Navardauskas, Heinrich Haussler, Giovanni Visconti, Enrico Gasparotto, Sonny Colbrelli, and Kanstantsin Siutsou.

“Having such a classic rider not only brings security and confidence, but also expert advice and mentorship to the young riders on the team,” said team manager Brent Copeland. “His always optimistic attitude will be transmitted to the younger riders on the team.”

The team will hold its first training camp in Croatia later this month.