One year ago, a then retired Fast Freddie Rodriguez was riding a fund-raiser with the Specialized Junior team when he “got the bug back”. Climbing on Sierra Road with the riders he was mentoring, his interest to return to professional cycling was re-kindled. A few months later, he was racing with his new squad, Team Exergy in Philly.
Though Rodriguez stepped away from the professional ranks in 2009 after the Rock Racing team folded, he stayed involved in cycling through his Fast Freddie Foundation.
“I took about half a year to just train. Because I have my foundation I started working with young riders, helping the Specialized kids and working with them and racing with them at races.” Rodriguez told podiuminsight.
Here we are one year later, and Rodriguez is looking forwards to leading his young squad at the biggest race in the USA, the Amgen Tour of California. Though a sprinter, he thinks that it’s actually to his advantage that there are almost no pure sprinter stages this year.
“The stage that I’ve done well in Tour of California in the past have all been stages that have been hard. I almost won in San Luis Obispo twice, I almost won in Thousand Oaks, I almost won in Santa Clarita so stages towards the end of the Tour of California that are tough but still tend to come back to a group sprint.”
As for the “easy” flat stage in Los Angeles on the final day, it’s one for the team’s pure sprinters, Carlos Alzate and Logan Loader.
Team Exergy has faced bad luck in 2011, from flat tires to injuries including two broken ribs for Rodriguez at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Though the ribs are still broken, he states that it doesn’t impact his racing or his fitness.
“I think the main thing was the lack of racing that I missed a little bit. Definitely my form is very good, I didn’t lose too much from the broken ribs, I was able to only take a week off and get back on the bike.” he explained. “But I was very conservative, not racing. If I were to crash I might do worst damage which is the only reason I wasn’t racing. I felt like I could maybe race but what if I crashed? Gila being more a road racing type of race, a lot safer bet to get back to racing. Imagine if I had done Joe Martin with all those crazy finishes.”
The advice he gave his teammates through this rough time was to find the right attitude. “If you sit there and concentrate on that, yes you’re never going to get out of that hole. As you know, once you get that one good result, it all kind of goes to the next one, it’s perpetual motion. Then, you get one bad crash, it turns you into the other direction.”
As an example, Rodriguez shared the way he dealt with his injury. “Okay I broke my ribs but what happened before that? On stage 2 I was out there leading Carlos and I almost won the stage. Okay things were going really well, my training was going really well, my weight is perfect, I’m really hungry to do well again, I’m going to take this week and just recover. I’m going to come out and really work on my diet and start looking at the positive things. The next thing you know, the two broken ribs wasn’t part of my thinking anymore, I was more concentrating on the positive things I could do.”
After the injury, he sat out a few races and focused on getting ready for California. “I went to Tahoe for a week which wasn’t ideal for having the best results at Gila but definitely two weeks at altitude, I think, are going to benefit at California. I have a lot better form, I tend to suffer at altitude, but then when I do a couple of weeks, I tend to really benefit from the after effects of it.”
The 38-year old rider has taken on the roles of sprinter and mentor for his squad. For many of his teammates, the eight-day UCI stage race will be the biggest race of their career, so far.
“What I’ve done in the sprint with the smaller races is to give a lot of freedom to our young sprinters. Logan Loader is somebody that I’ve brought onto the team because I believe in his talents, I believe in what he can do and so I really pushed for him to get on board and then he was doing great. The training, just every little part, giving him the confidence, setting him up and helping him achieve his goals. And then we have Carlos Alzate, Andres Diaz, Matt Cooke, there are a lot of riders that I can give a little input in how to stay comfortable, stay motivated and fight those demons because the bigger the races sometimes you get really nervous, I don’t have the right stuff, and just relax them.”
His advice to his teammates after Gila was, once again, to concentrate on the positive. “I said, guys go home, concentrate on positive stuff. This is it, you have one week before the big race, you’ve done everything you can. Go watch happy movies, go watch bike racing if that makes you feel good, don’t watch CNN, don’t do your taxes,” he laughed, “don’t look at the stock market. Concentrate on things that are going to focus you on what you’re trying to do which is be the best.”
Rodriguez thinks that his team can be successful this week in California. “I know from my experience of racing at the top level of what it takes and yes, what we lack in confidence I bring in in experience, what I can do for the guys, we do. We’ve proven at the race in Colorado, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge where we were underdogs, we still got on the podium, we were still aggressive at the end. We still went out and made leadouts.”
At the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Rodriguez finished third on the final stage in Colorado.
So what is success? “Team Exergy is out there performing, that we’re doing our best and showing that we’re a team. What’s the icing on the cake? Winning a stage.” he commented.
During our conversation, we asked Rodriguez not only if he was still fast but if he can still be called Fast Freddie.
“Yep, I think so.” he replied. “Like I’ve always been, I have a hard time with smaller races but the bigger the fish is, the harder I go for some reason. My best result last year was the last stage of USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”
“I’m expecting to do well, I feel good, I’m in a very positive environment. It’s kind of our vibe we carry, Tad and Remi, Dave and Scott have developed this energy within our Team Exergy program where we want to win, we’re hungry, we want it but we also want to make sure that our team does it with integrity. We want to have good people on our team, we want to be happy, we don’t want any characters that are negative, we don’t want big heads, we want good people that want to go out there and work their butt off and do the best they can. And so what it does, it creates a great environment so it’s nice to give them my experiences to become a better athlete.”
His targets are stage 3, stage 4 and stage 6.
Rodriguez concluded, “I’m going to put my money on Livermore, Big Bear and on Clovis, those are the ones. I’m going to go out and do my best in Santa Rosa, that’s the first race, you never know so we’ll see.”