Four-time and reigning US professional road champion Fred Rodriguez is hoping to spring back from a crash at Tour of the Gila last month and defend his stars-and-stripes jersey Monday in Chattanooga at the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships.
Rodriguez spent last week competing with Jelly Belly-Maxxis at the Tour of California, where his best finish was 17th during the coastal run from Monterey to Cambria. The 40-year-old from Berkeley was still recovering from a broken rib during the race. But he told Cyclingnews after the stage 7 finish in downtown Pasadena that he should be ready for nationals.
“I think with a week of rest I'll be pretty good,” he said. “I think this week was definitely a plus in getting ready for nationals. I came in with a bad rib after some bad crashes. I've been climbing better and better, but I also had some bad stomach and was a little sick. I wish I would have been a little bit better for here, but, you know, things happen.”
Rodriguez won back-to-back US pro championships in 2000 and 2001 when he was a lead-out man for Italian and Belgian ProTour teams. He won again in 2004 on the same Philadelphia International Championship course that included the Manayunk Wall. Rodriguez had to wait nine more years for his fourth title, which came last year in Chattanooga.
“Nationals is close to my heart,” he said. “I've always done well there, and I'm excited to have another shot.”
Rodriguez out-sprinted BMC's Brent Bookwalter and UnitedHealthcare's Kiel Reijnen last year to take his fourth title. Stronger climbers had dropped him on the final trip up Lookout Mountain, the major obstacle on the Chattanooga course, but he regained the front group in time to use his finishing kick.
Monday's race will take place on an almost identical course – with just one little wrinkle. Organizers have added a short, steep climb in North Chattanooga that riders will have to power over seven times.
The 165.5km route begins with four laps of an 8.2km starting circuit before a relatively flat run to Lookout Mountain. The 4.5km climb on Ochs Highway ascends nearly 350 meters, and the riders will face it on each of their trips around the 26.5km “long” circuits. The new wall is a one-block section of road with grades of up to 20 percent. The men will tackle it on each of the long circuits as well as on three shorter 8.6km finishing circuits.
News of added climbing usually doesn't favor a rider known for sprinting, but Rodriguez appeared nonplussed by the new obstacle that could stand in the way of his fifth champion's jersey.
“That's fine,” he said. “At that course my main concern is the big climb. That 5km climb is tough. It's a 14 minute, hard climb. As long as I can save the legs, I'm going to do the same game plan as last year. I think I'll be there if everything goes correct.”