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American veteran eyeing outside chance of Olympic selection
At 38 years of age Freddie Rodriguez has rediscovered his passion for the sport of cycling. In 2010 the California native had a contract with Rock Racing, only to watch the team implode in March of the same year leaving him and other marquee riders like Olympian and former Discovery Channel rider Tony Cruz without a contract.
With a child on the way, a new house being built and a clothing company to manage, Rodriguez decided it was time to step away from the professional athlete side of the sport.
However, he was asked to be part of the Specialized sponsored development squad as a mentor - helping the junior riders learn the craft of racing a bike.
"I was no longer racing and the team was going to help me develop my clothing line - Prooff - but then we decided I'd come on board and race with the kids," explained Rodriguez.
He was able to participate at many of the races in the Bay Area, including the Early Bird series, all the while developing the juniors riding skills - necessary for stepping up to the elite category.
"That was the idea, having someone work hands-on with the juniors."
As the race season continued Rodriguez started to realize how much he missed racing at the pro level. But it wasn't one instance that stood out to him which finally led him to Team Exergy, but a couple.
At the Sea Otter Classic in April, Rodriguez was still racing as part of the Specialized development team. During the race he broke a rear wheel. Unsupported, he pulled into the wheel pit facing the aspect that his race was over. However, mechanics from Team Exergy ran over and loaned him a wheel - something that Rodriguez remembered months later.
In May, Rodriguez participated in a Specialized Devo team donors ride which included riding the Sierra Road stage of the Amgen Tour of California just a few hours before the pro field would come by. As he was climbing the steep gradient fans started to recognize him - cheering him on. It was at that moment he decided he wanted to return to racing at an elite level.
After a discussion with his wife it was decided that he would race again, but with three kids, a clothing company, and a new house he had to choose a team that could accommodate his situation. After investigating other domestic teams he remembered how Exergy had helped him with a wheel at Sea Otter.
By coincidence the team had just had a meeting where they had decided that the team needed to step up.
"It just happened that we were both in the same situation." The Giro d' Italia stage winner wanted to rejoin the pro field and the team needed exposure from a well recognized name who could also get results.
Initially the team wanted Rodriguez to start in the US Pro road race championships in Greenville, South Carolina. However, that was only a week away. Instead his return to the professional peloton was delayed for three weeks for the TD Bank International Cycling Championship.
"After riding with the kids on the Specialized team I realized my form was still good. When I was tested they discovered that my muscle mass had increased and my fitness level had actually improved. I think that was mental as I wasn't focused on cycling for a year and then I came back."
It was with that renewed fitness Rodriguez took into the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, finishing third on the final stage in Denver.
"I've always been an athlete who does better when the challenge is bigger," said Rodriguez.
With the 2012 season only a few months away what is Team Exergy looking to accomplish and what is his role going to be in the team?
"I'll have many roles. After spending several years in the peloton and knowing the business side of the sport I'm helping the management make the right decisions to grow the team in the right way."
As a racer Rodriguez and Team Exergy are looking to race in the Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Utah and return to the Pro Challenge in Colorado, but he does have a couple of major personal goals.
"I've never won a stage in the Amgen Tour of California - that's a goal. Also, national championships have been a big part of my life (three-time professional national road race champion - 2000, 2001, 2004), so I want a title.
"If I can succeed there, that would be great. It's also an Olympic year and I don't know my chances, but I e-mailed my coach and told him we need to tighten down my training schedule as this is basically my last chance to have success in cycling."
That's not to say that at the end of the 2012 season Rodriguez is going to retire. The 2013 season is also an open door and he'll only be 40 years old.
Next season Team Exergy is contemplating a campaign in Europe and Asia in addition to a full domestic calendar.