It's been five years since Fred Rodriguez last claimed a major international stage race victory in the US when he won the Stone Mountain stage of the Tour de Georgia, but he showed his speed is slowly coming back after his retirement in 2009.
The three-time US Pro champion and winner of a stage in the 2004 Giro d'Italia, now riding with the Continental Team Exergy sprinted to third in the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California in Santa Rosa on Sunday.
The sprint followed a hard chase for the fast men after the peloton split with 40km to go on the final king of the mountains prime on Coleman Valley Road.
"It was chaotic," Rodriguez said. "Boonen and myself and a couple sprinters came off on Coleman Valley and we had to chase and only came back in the last 10-12km."
Rodriguez found his way to the front, avoided a late crash and put himself onto the wheel of the man who would go on to win the stage, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"I jumped a little too early," explained the 38-year-old. "My legs were tired from chasing back on, so I just didn't have it today, but it's nice to get back to this level of racing again."
Rodriguez stepped away from racing after spending two seasons with the Rock Racing squad, choosing a domestic program over his former European romping grounds in order to be with his young family. While he has been busy mentoring the young riders of the Exergy squad, helping to develop young sprint talent Logan Loader and racing the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar events, Rodriguez was pleased to find his speed up to the task of going up against the WorldTour teams.
"It takes a little bit of this higher intensity to get your legs back under you so I'm pretty happy with that. Today was probably going to be the hardest day for me, just to get my legs back under me."
He was asked at the team presentation if people could still call him by his nickname of old, "Fast Freddie", and Rodriguez answered in the affirmative. "Yes, you can still call me Fast Freddie. I'm not quite back to my top level, but it can only get better from here."
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