Joaquim Rodriguez decides not to race in 2017

'I realised it was not possible' says Bahrain-Merida signing

Joaquim Rodriguez will not, after all, race his bike professionally again, with the Bahrain-Merida team announcing on Friday that the Spaniard has made the decision to end his career.

Rodríguez has been the subject of a 'will he race - won't he race' saga since signing for the new WorldTour team – a surprise move given he had planned to retire at the end of the season.

Despite signing the new contract, Rodriguez said he hadn't decided whether he would actually race in 2017, or whether he would limit his role at the team to mentoring the other riders.

"After taking enough time to think and also trying to come back to a working routine, I realized it was not possible for me," said Rodriguez.

"So, with the support of my family and friends, I decided not to come back to the competition at the highest of levels. I would like to thank everyone that supported me to come back. I am honoured and you really made my decision difficult, but I believe it is better not to come back if I am not sure I can do it at the top level and be competitive to offer my fans what they deserve."

Rodriguez's indecision drew suspicion from many corners, the suggestion being he was signed for his WorldTour points – strong currency at the time as the team fought for a top-tier licence. Once the UCI decided to shelve its plans to reduce the WorldTour from 18 to 17 riders, thus handing spots to all applicants, points no longer mattered, and Rodriguez didn't need to be on the books as a rider.

Both Rodriguez and the team deny this was the case, with the rider telling Cyclingnews in October that he signed with Bahrain because he was unhappy with how things ended at Katusha – who called him up for additional races at the end of the season when he wasn't in top shape. "It wasn't how I'd pictured it all ending and it was just a bad way to leave things," he said.

He explained that if he did return, he'd want to do so with 100 per cent commitment, though general manager Brent Copeland suggested he would share his experience from within the peloton.

"I am grateful to the Bahrain-Merida Pro Cycling Team. They believed in me, they gave me all the conditions to return and they gave me the freedom of choice, but I realized, speaking with them, that I am not prepared physically and mentally, for a 100 per cent comeback," added Rodriguez.

"I wanted to announce this before the start of the new season, because the riders are the protagonists and they deserve the full attention."

Rodriguez will still be employed by the team, but will form part of the technical staff, working in particular with the younger riders. The statement also says he will work with the Bahrain Tourism Association to promote the Arab state.

"We support Purito with this difficult decision," said Copeland. "The first contact with Joaquim was made with the intention of him working with the technical staff of the team so we are pleased that he has decided to continue in this direction. The opportunity for our riders and staff to use his priceless experience and knowledge is something that is worth an immense amount to the team."

Rodriguez's career

With that, Rodriguez's 16-year professional career, which featured two Il Lombardia titles, three Tour de France stage wins, and a string of near misses, comes to an end.

A professional since 2001, he earned his nickname of 'Purito' – 'Little Cigar' – at his first team, ONCE. After three years at Manolo Saiz's team, which included a stage win at Paris-Nice in 2003, and two seasons at Saunier-Duval, he joined Caisse d'Epargne in 2006.

After winning the Spanish title in 2007 and placing 6th at the 2008 Vuelta a España, Rodriguez enjoyed a break-out year in 2009, placing second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and taking bronze at the Worlds in Mendrisio. It was enough to convince him that co-existence with Alejandro Valverde was no longer feasible, and he signed for Katusha in 2010, and the best results of his career would all follow in his 30s.

Competitive in Classics, week-long stage races and three-week tours, Rodriguez has compiled a vast palmares in the second half of his career, and maintained a remarkably consistent level of performance, finishing in the top ten overall of at least one Grand Tour in each of the past eleven seasons.

The closest he came to winning a Grand Tour was second place at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana and the 2012 Giro d'Italia, and it was the latter that was the heartbreaker as Ryder Hesjedal robbed him of the maglia rosa on the penultimate day time trial. Further heartbreak - and tears - came at the 2013 World Championships in Florence, where poor teamwork allowed Rui Costa to come through and snatch victory from him on the line. 

Rodriguez's final season saw him finish seventh overall at the Tour de France and fifth in the Olympic Games road race. 

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