Team Exergy fastman Freddy Rodriguez had pulled off the road Monday during the ballistically quick beginning of stage 1 at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado after an early race asthma attack had made it impossible to keep up any longer.
"I don't have too many problems with it," Rodriguez said of his breathing affliction. "Usually when I get sick, it really aggravates me. Then yesterday - we spent a week at altitude not really doing much - and then the intensity of the fast pace is like an attack on the lungs in a way. So it's very similar to being sick. The lungs just kind of do the opposite, they try to protect themselves, and I just could not breathe."
Standing alongside the road trying to catch his breath, Rodriguez started doubting his ability to finish the 202km stage. "I really thought, 'You know what, I may not be able to make it,'" he said. "It's one of those days where you just know that things are not working. I pulled to the side of the road and was like, 'Yeah, this might be it.'"
But Rodriguez found his savior in the gruppetto of sprinters that came up the road just behind him. The 38-year-old Grand Tour veteran jumped in with the group, which rode a steady tempo for a good long time, giving his lungs a chance to open back up. "Then I was fine," he said.
Rodriguez wasn't just fine, he was on prime form. He made it over the daunting Hesperus, Lizard Head Pass and Alta climbs and found himself well positioned for the sprint finish following the downhill run into Telluride.
The cagey speedster grabbed eventual winner Tyler Farrar's wheel as the peloton rocketed into Telluride, but Liquigas rider Damiano Caruso chopped his wheel on the super tight second-to-last corner and took away Rodriguez's prime position.
"I couldn't really tell what was going on when Rory [Sutherland] started putting the speed on," he said. "And when Tyler went I had no idea he had even gotten a gap from us."
Rodriguez found himself boxed in during the final 200 meters and had to soft pedal briefly to find a hole where he could escape from the pocket of the field that was in full flight. "By the time I got out, it was a little too late," he said. "All I could do was pass guys, but I ran out of real estate. I needed a little more time."
Despite his misfortune in the finishing straight, Rodriguez held out hope for a podium spot.
"I though I was second or fourth, and it turns out it was fourth," he said. "I mean, of course I wanted to win, of course I wanted to make the podium, but at the end of the day, after how I started, yesterday was a good opening for me."
Rodriguez parlayed his good opening into a respectable finish during Tuesday's second stage to Crested Butte, overcoming three category 3 climbs and finishing in 41st place, just 59 seconds behind winner Tejay van Garderen. Rodriguez is currently 40th on the general classification, where he also sits the same 59 seconds behind leader van Garderen. And he said he'll be back looking for more stage-win opportunities this week.
"There's a couple more tries at it," he said. "And I'm feeling good."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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