Four-time and current US professional road race champion Freddie Rodriguez got a little bit of a shock Tuesday as he rolled from the stage 2 finish at the USA Pro Challenge toward his Jelly Belly team bus. On the way to the parking lot he passed by the podium ceremony for the stage and heard the announcers call out the name of Cannondale's 23-year-old super star, Peter Sagan.
"Did Sagan get third," he asked a reporter. "Wow!"
Sagan is not unlike a younger Rodriguez, who was known either as sprinter who could climb or as a climber who could sprint. The 39-year-old former WorldTour rider said he sees potential for Sagan to be a GC threat in more races if he could cut a little weight.
"He sprints well because he's a little bit bigger right now," Rodriguez said.
"I mean if you look at him, he's chunky, but I bet if he got really lean and lost a little bit of muscle he'd be a GC contender. What was it, two years ago that he got top 10 at the Tour of California? So he's a versatile rider. I bet if he lost some weight he'd be a GC contender. That's my feel. He's that good of a rider."
Rodriguez delivered a shock of his own in June when he hung with the best in the US on the final climb of the nationals course in Chattanooga and then outsprinted BMC's Brent Bookwalter and UnitedHealthcare's Kiel Reijnen to take his fourth professional title. Now he'd like to add to his palmares in Colorado, and he'll be looking for some sprint stages throughout the rest of the week.
"I didn't expect to see Sagan up there today," he said of stages that may give sprinters a chance for glory. "But with that punch at the end I can see the last stage in Denver and that second-to-last stage. And even tomorrow looks promising. So there are a couple. It will be difficult with the altitude, which definitely makes it harder. Just riding at 10,000 feet, you're sitting there thinking, God, it doesn't even feel like we're moving, but you're hurting. So it's a challenge."
Rodriguez had no time to acclimate to the altitude in Colorado. He arrived Sunday after riding in his 'Fast Freddie' Gran Fondo in California on Saturday.
"So I was a little tired coming into this," he said. "But I knew that the second half of the week was more important for me for stage wins. So that's the goal."