Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has revealed that the Clasica San Sebastian was his last ever race in Spain, indicating that he will not ride the Vuelta a Espana or any other race on home roads before formally retiring at the end of the 2016 season.
The Katusha team dropped a hint that Rodriguez could even hang up his bike after the Rio Olympics and never ride again for the Russian team.
Purito was awarded a special prize as the most aggressive rider in the Clasica San Sebastian and emotionally collected the award with his young children. His attack on the late climb blew apart the group of favourites before Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) passed him near the summit and surged away to take a solo victory. Rodriguez finished fourth, behind Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), waving to the crowd as he reached the finish rather than sprinting for a spot on the podium.
He quickly confirmed his farewell before joining up with the Spanish team to travel to Rio for the Olympic road race. He first revealed he will retire at the end of the season during the Tour de France when the race enjoyed the first rest day near his home in Andorra. The end of the 37-year old Catalan's career appeared much closer in San Sebastian.
"I enjoyed my last race in Spain," Rodriguez said. "This was a nice goodbye. The climb was super with the fans cheering for me. I really enjoyed it. I'm sorry I missed the top 3, but in the end there were three riders faster than me."
As in the final stages of the Tour de France, Rodriguez took the race from the front, attacking at the key moment on the climb of the Murgil Bidea, as the gradient kicked up to 20%.
"That last climb was really my terrain. I saw I had a gap and I tried, I had to," he explained, highlighting that Gallopin and long-standing Spanish rival Valverde refused to help with the chase of Mollema on the descent.
"Earlier I saw Adam Yates attacking and I knew he was trying to repeat his move of last year. That's why I followed him and later dropped him. Unfortunately, at the top Mollema, Valverde and Gallopin joined me and when Mollema went away, Valverde and Gallopin really did nothing. Were they so afraid of me? In theory they are faster than me in the sprint. In the end they also missed the victory but it is like this. I was dead at that moment after my attack."
Katusha directeur sportif Xavier Florencio praised Rodriguez but dropped a hint that he may never race for the Russian team again.
"We are happy for the result of 'Purito' today as the last race he will do with Team KATUSHA," Florencio was reported as saying in an official Katusha statement.
"On the last climb we attacked with Joaquim, because he was strong, but Mollema attacked on the false flat of the climb and Joaquim arrived with Gallopin and Valverde at the finish. There was really no cooperation among the riders, but these are Joaquim's last races, so we are happy with his efforts. In the end it was impossible to win, but we're still happy."
A goodbye via Rio and the Olympics, memories of an elusive Grand Tour success
On Sunday morning Rodriguez said goodbye to his family and flew to Rio with the rest of the Spanish road race team. With his goodbye to Spain confirmed, his race programme for the final part of the season and his final goodbye to the sport after 17 years as professional has still to be decided.
A professional since 2001, Rodriguez 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 thirties.
Competitive in Classics, week-long stage races and three-week Grand Tours, Rodriguez has compiled a vast palmares in the second half of his career, and maintained a remarkably consistent level of performance - the Catalan has finished in the top ten overall of at least one Grand Tour in each of the past eleven seasons.
Rodriguez is one of the few riders to have been on the podium in all three Grand Tours, but he has never been able to stand on the top step of a podium. In 2010, he led the Vuelta a España into the final week only to drop to third overall after a calamitous showing in the Penafiel time trial. In 2012, Rodriguez carried the maglia rosa into the final day of the Giro d'Italia, only to lose the race to Ryder Hesjedal by just 16 seconds. Later that season, Rodriguez again led the Vuelta into the final week only for Alberto Contador to snatch the red jersey in dramatic fashion at Fuente De, and Rodriguez again had to settle for third.
A third place finish at the 2013 Tour de France felt almost like a victory, though Rodriguez was to endure further disappointment that season when he was out-sprinted to the rainbow jersey by Rui Costa at the World Championships in Florence, a defeat he said would stay with him for ever.
"I have so many memories. I think of my super year 2012 with Il Lombardia in the pouring rain but also I think of my silver medal at the 2013 World Championships. Not to have won there still hurts but that's cycling," he said.
Rodriguez finished seventh in his last ever Tour de France, with the peloton allowing him the honour to ride first onto the Champs Elysees ahead of the others, as a final goodbye to Grand Tour racing.
At the time Cyclingnews asked him if it was a regret that he would likely close his career without a Grand Tour win, the response was a resounding, 'no.'
"I have a lot of memories from the Tour de France like the podium in Paris," he said. "I have podiums at the Giro and at the Vuelta, Lombardia. That year  was a really special year. On the podium, I was with riders who had achieved more but I don't regret any moment in this race or in cycling in general."
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