Freddie Rodriguez got the best birthday present a US cyclist could ask for Tuesday when the now-40-year-old Jelly Belly rider was officially named in USA Cycling's team for the world road race championships.
Rodriguez was one of three automatic selections for the US team, earning his spot by winning his fourth US road race championship earlier this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He'll join fellow automatic selections Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), along with discretionary picks Chris Horner (Radioshack-Leopard), Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp).
“It's amazing,” Rodriguez said of earning his seventh trip to the world championships. “It's been a year of a lot of emotions when Exergy stepped out and I found myself working on my Fast Freddie Apparel for a couple of months and wondering what was my next step.”
Rodriguez, who first raced professionally in 1998 with Saturn before heading to Europe and forging a career as a top-level sprinter and lead-out man, was ready to hang up his cleats after team Exergy abruptly pulled the plug before this season, but then he got a call from Jelly Belly.
“They wanted to give me a chance to start at the US pro championships,” Rodriguez said. “That spiraled to the next level, getting into Colorado, getting into Alberta and now a spot for Worlds.”
Support role, retirement in 2015
Rodriguez knows that he will be in a support role for the climbers on the US team over the 280km course that goes over the route's major climb 10 times. He said he hopes he can pass along to the younger riders some of the experience he's accumulated over his career and during his past appearances at the world championships.
“It's definitely not a course that's suited to my style,” he said. “So riding for me would be to support the guys who have those kind of skills, basically getting them as fresh as possible to the last 50km. The first half of the course is about saving as much energy as you can as the leaders and just bringing it back together for them so they can duke it out within the first 10-20 guys who really have the legs to go the last 50km.”
After his appearance at Worlds, which will take place in Florence, Italy this year, Rodriguez said he is motivated to spend more time in the domestic peloton, and he hopes to ride with Jelly Belly until he's ready to retire, possibly after the 2015 world championships in Richmond, Virginia.
“I look at Worlds in the US as a possibility for retirement, but I'm not going to give myself a date because I look at Horner; he's two years older than I am and he's still out there and is probably going to sign another two-year contract.”
But Rodriguez said he needs to balance his desire to continue racing with the obligations he has as a husband and as a father of three children.
“My daughter right now is playing a little soccer, and I missed her first game today,” he said.
“Those are the kind of things I don't want to miss out on. So next week I go home and coach my son's team. Those are the things I'm trying to balance; my home life and my wife. She's been with me for my whole career, 20 years, and I have to respect she's given me the opportunity to continue this.”