Few riders have the privilege of choosing when their final Tour de France is, and even fewer are lucky enough to finish it. The Tour de France can be a cruel beast but it also has the power to give riders moments that will stick with them for the remainder of their lives.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is one of those lucky few. The Spaniard, who announced his retirement on the first rest day of the Tour de France, had the pleasure of leading the peloton onto the Champs-Elysees, an honour that is usually reserved for the race winner and his teammates.
Small in stature, but big in personality, Rodriguez is a popular figure in the peloton. That several riders requested that he take them onto Paris' most famed boulevard for, is testament to the high regard his fellow riders hold him in. "It was really, really special. It was a surprise to arrive on my own," Rodriguez told Cyclingnews outside the Katusha bus on the Place de la Concorde after the completion of the final stage.
"First Luis Angel Maté, the Cofidis rider, came to me and said Purito we would like you to lead us into the first lap of the [Champ-Élysées] circuit. I said no. But then Sagan said it, and then Chris Froome, and then my teammates said it. It was so beautiful to enter the circuit first. Later, in the final kilometre, I looked for Chris and I said thank you for this moment, it was such a beautiful moment."
Rodriguez arrived at the Tour de France with the sole ambition of a top-10 finish. He was as high as third following the opening stage in the Pyrenees but dropped down to 12th after a couple of bad days in the second week. The 37-year-old was one of the few to strike out of the main group of favourites in the torrid weather conditions in Morzine on the final mountain stage a move that saw him jump back up to his final overall position of seventh.
"For me, it was a pretty normal Tour. It was logical to have some failures, it was a really hard Tour but I am really happy with my result," Rodriguez said. "I have not enjoyed a Grand Tour as I have this Tour de France. It was a perfect team behind me. I enjoyed a lot being with my teammates. We were able to make a good result and we got a victory. I couldn't have asked for a better Tour team."
Like many, the Tour de France has been a source of good and bad moments for Rodriguez. One of his high points at the Tour, and possibly his career, was his third-place finish at the 2013 race. His result that season gave the others around him a memorable Tour moment when he handed out cigars to his fellow podium finishers Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana. Rodriguez also has his name to three stage wins, two in 2015 and one in 2010.
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. 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 here in Paris," he said. "I have podiums at the Giro and at the Vuelta, Lomabardia. 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."
He might be about to hang up his wheels for good in just a few months but there is little respite for him just yet. After completing his final Tour de France, Rodriguez will head to the Clásica San Sebastián before representing his country in the road race at the Rio Olympic Games.
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