Just two days ahead of his 42 birthday, Fred Rodriguez, one of America’s longest-standing professional cyclists, announced that he will officially retire from the sport at the end of the season. He made the announcement on Tuesday at the opening press conference for the Tour of Alberta in Grande Prairie.
“I’m excited to be here. This is my last major stage race of my career,” Rodriguez told the assembled reporters at the Pomeroy Hotel. “I’ve been doing it at this level since 1992. I have had a long career, I’ve enjoyed it and I am excited to be here to celebrate that. The second stage is my birthday, so there are a lot of great things here for me to celebrate.”
Rodriguez signed his first professional contract with Saturn in 1996 and spent two seasons with the powerful American team before moving up the ranks to Mapei-QuickStep in 1999. He went on to race for Domo-Farm Frites-Latexeco in 2001, followed by one-year contracts with by Vini Caldirola-So.di and Acqua & Sapone. He spent his final three seasons in Europe racing for Davitamon-Lotto from 2005-07.
His career included international stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Langkawi, Tour de Luxembourg, Tour de Suisse, Tour de Rhodes, and numerous second places in races like Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem, both of which he finished behind Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini in 2002.
Rodriguez had become one of cycling’s national icons through his success abroad but perhaps more so for his wins in the US. He amassed four US road titles (2000, 2001, 2004 and 2013), and successes at top domestic races like the Lancaster Classic, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Philadelphia International Championships, Tour de Georgia, Reading Classic, Grand Prix of San Francisco and the Tour of Elk Grove.
The years that followed Rodriguez’s return to the US from Europe, however, were up and down. He spent two seasons with the controversial American team Rock Racing before being forced into what some had considered retirement at the end of the 2009 season.
“As we know, sometimes cycling can be very volatile, and I was on two teams that folded, so it wasn’t really retiring. This is my first official announcement that I am retiring.”
He spent the next couple of years focused on building his clothing line, Prooff, and even joined the San Francisco Bay Area development team that was co-sponsored by his company and Specialized.
He eventually found his way back into the professional bike-racing scene in 2011 with Team Exergy, but that team also folded in 2012. He was offered a place with Jelly Belly, where he has spent his final three seasons racing mainly in the US.
“It’s definitely tougher as you get older, and I’m trying to enjoy the labour that I’ve put into it,” Rodriguez said of his final season.
“This year especially, I have really focused on looking around and knowing that this was going to be my last year. It is something that we, and us guys, put a lot of effort into our training and into our life; you put a lot of effort into being a bike rider. It’s going to be a big change for me, but I’m trying to take that in one last time.”
Rodriguez will lead a relatively young Jelly Belly team for the final stage race of his career at the Tour of Alberta. The team includes potential overall contenders Lachlan Morton and Gavin Mannion, along with Josh Berry, Alexandre Briaco, Steve Fisher, Angus Morton and Taylor Sheldon.
Morton and Mannion recently raced the USA Pro Challenge, where they both finished in the top 10 overall, and they are expected to do well during the two summit finishes in Jasper on stages 3 and 4 this week.
“We have a young team of riders who are doing really well right now, and I’m excited to see them doing well and carrying the torch on,” Rodriguez said. “It will be a beautiful race. It could be tough at times but that’s part of bike racing.”
This year’s parcours also includes three flatter stages in Grande Prairie on stage 2 [Rodriguez’s birthday], in Spruce Grove on stage 5 and in Edmonton on stage 6, which could give cycling fans one last opportunity to see the man affectionately known as “Fast Freddy” in his element.
“This is the style of race that I do well at, with windy sections, typical to a classic, which I’m good at,” Rodriguez said.