Update: Take a look at this great gallery, courtesy of Tony Szurly.
Fred Through the Years
Photos Copyright © 2003 Jaime Nichols, except where noted
Fast Freddie Rodriguez is one of those rare American riders making his mark overseas on a European team. Riding this past season for Vini Caldirola/Sidermec/Saunier Duval, he's had a year of highs and lows, as excellent early season form gave way to injury and illness, putting him off his game just in time for the spring Classics.
Despite that, he rode with the best in the inaugural Tour de Georgia, finishing second overall and in the sprinter's jersey. After a rough ride in the Tour de France, Rodriguez came back to polish off the 2003 season on a high note with a very strong performance in the sprints at La Vuelta, and as the top American finisher at the Worlds in Hamilton.
Rodriguez is a tough, ambitious and talented rider, and with his long experience of blazing his own trail in the European peloton, he's looking like a man on the cusp of something bigger than he's ever done before. Next season, he's back on the road with a new team, and the same mission as ever: win bike races; and his past performances tell us that he has the legs and the class to do it.
The Daily Peloton caught up with Fast Freddie, and asked him about his thoughts on the 2003 season, what's on the horizon, and what he's up to in the off season.
How are things, Fred?
Good! I've just been getting back to riding a bit.
How's that feeling?
Good! I've got a little of a sore knee - I may have been pushing a little too hard, but nothing bad. I'm just at the beginning of trying to get back into riding my bike, and doing something that doesn't quite seem normal again, but it's good. My dad is in town, and we've been riding together, so that's been great.
Is your Dad a rider?
Yeah! My dad used to race, I wouldn't say professionally, but he used to race at what was the highest level in Colombia back then. He's been riding his bike forever. He's 68 right now, and he's still riding. Actually, I'm pretty impressed with him right now because he just had a valve replacement, a huge aorta valve replacement less than a year agoÖ
And he's still at riding after that?
Oh, not just riding, but climbing! I was just like, 'Wow!' We went on a group ride the other day with Dave Zabriskie, and he was hanging in. Pretty good! Especially after going through heart surgery like that. I was pretty impressed.
What's your family story? You were born in Colombia, I know, but when did you come here?
My family came in the early 60's. My dad came here, and would just go back and forth; but they finally moved here permanently in the mid 70's. My brother was actually born here in Los Angeles, but my parents went back at one point, and meant to come straight back, but at that time it became much tougher to get visas, so they stayed longer and my sister and I were born in Colombia. When they finally finished the whole process and we came back to the U.S., I was 2 or 3, in 75 or 76.
I lived in Los Angeles most of my life, in Whittier, pretty close to Tony [Cruz], and actually my sister and Tony's sister were best friends for a long time.
Now you live in Northern California, right?
Yeah, I live in the Bay Area, just outside of Berkeley. It's nice. I really like it. There's lots of good riding here.
So, what are you doing in your time off?
Just trying to have some fun! There's a lot of Las Vegas going on! Actually, last week it was Dylan's [Casey] bachelor party in Los Angeles, so we had to celebrate that. So, it was fun, just a bunch of guys getting together and having a blast.
Other than that, just moving around and doing all kinds of things. Still trying to get my coffee business off the groundÖ
What's the progress?
I think I've finally got the right group of people together that can get it off the ground. I'm still working with my original roaster. He had some problems with a partner that pulled out, or that he pulled away from, so it took him awhile to get back up and going again, but now he seems really excited about getting it off the ground. I also have another friend involved, and I canít really mention who it is until the deals are worked out, but if this friend comes along, it going to go.
A cycling friend?
No, more a new agent who will help me out with this kind of thing. It's hard to ride your bike and do all the other things you'd like to do that are related to riding your bike. I have great ideas, but implementing them while I'm trying to race my bike is pretty hard to do, so. I just don't really have the time, because I'm always in Europe, trying to make my career there, and it gets tough to keep up with everything. I have a hard time even just keeping up with my fans, you know? Getting help with some of that will help balance it out.
Speaking of your career in Europe, what are your thoughts on your 2003 season? You've had some good highs and some not so good lows this year, haven't you?
I think, to me, personally, it's always about what you did last, especially in Europe. People only remember what you did last, so if you look at that, I think it ended pretty well with the Vuelta. I didn't get to win, unfortunately, but I got really close. One day especially, I knew, even talking it over afterwards with Petacchi, he knew I had him on that day; so that was great for confidence, even if it was a little disappointing.
I didn't really have the team to support me, which was disappointing, because I was making such a huge effort, so it was tough not to be paid back with a strong team effort.
Rodriguez charging hard to victory in Georgia
Your teammates wouldn't cooperate with you, or were they just not quite the guys for the job?
The team I had was just too weak. There were a lot of young guys who just didnít have the capacity to pull that kind of a ride off.
Overall, I think they had a lot of good intentions, but the team was also just going through a lot of turmoil, with new management and new sponsors, and a lot of thing were happening within the team that just made the team unity a little rough. At the end of the day, I think we, the team leaders, Garzelli, myself, Romans [Vainstains], did the best we could to make the most of our situation.
You suffered some early season setbacks and injuries, too, didnít you?
Oh yeah. I could just sit here and whine to you about that for the next half hour! I had a really good start - a 2nd, a win and another 2nd, and then I was in position to win a stage race and had my first crash in a tangle with one of the crazy Aussie sprinters - Graeme Brown - who just completely came out of nowhere, side-swiped me and took me out of contention on that day and for the stage race.
At the time, my body was just fighting off a slight cold, and crashing like that just took me over the edge. I ended up with bronchitis about two weeks after that, and it was basically a month or three weeks out from San Remo, so I only had about a week and a half to train for that, which led into San Remo not being as good as I expected.
Also, I was just nervous. I went into the races after that nervous and expecting more, and then had another crash where I landed on my side and really ruined my hips, which pretty much did it for my Spring. So, heading into all the big races - Flanders, Roubaix and Amstel Gold - I just couldn't get my body to work properly. I was just completely tweaked from the crash, and even though I was there, and I kept trying, my body was just always overcompensating from injuries.
My form was great - I mean, I had a great ride in Georgia, but even there, my body was just wrong. My muscles were all tweaked. I was asked to do the Giro after that. They said 'You're doing great! You're winning, you're climbing...' but I just knew that if I kept on like that, it was gonna blow. I was using my right leg to compensate for the left, and I knew that if I kept on like that I was just going to be a wreck, so I shut it down for awhile, like I normally do at that time of the year, and tried to be ready for the Tour. I wasn't 100% there, and I still don't think I'm at 100%, but it's getting better all the time.
Cycling is a tough man's sport, and your initial response to a crash is to just get up and go, and keep trying, but sometimes that can be the worst thing to do, because then you're just creating more injuries that you shouldn't be. I mean, you tear a tendon slightly, and think, 'oh, it's no big deal,' but then that little tear causes something else. Sometimes it's a lot better not to push it too hard. It can really come back to bite you later.
What's your story for next season?
Well, I'm going to be signing with Acqua e Sapone. We're in negotiations right now, and it's just a matter of finalizing the contract at this point.
So they're starting up again as a separate team? What is their relationship to Domina Vacanze?
They were the sponsor of Mario Cipollini's team in 2002, but this season, Domina Vacanze took over. Acqua e Sapone decided to leave, basically looking to branch out and try something new. They're also looking into a long-term relationship here, too. I think they feel like they went into it a little too fast with Cipollini, and this time they want to really keep an eye on the team and grow it slowly instead of trying to just jumping in and trying to do everything right away. I think it'll be a small team of maybe 17 or so riders, and we'll try to run one good, strong program.
Rodriguez victorious in the Tour of Rhodes
Copyright © 2003 Tour of Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Will you be the number one man on the team for the sprints?
Yeah, that's the goal. I mean, that's what I told them I was looking for.
What kind of team will it be - a stage race outfit, or more of a one-day team?
I think we'll be more of a Classics team. I don't think we really have a big stage race winner, like a Tyler, or an Ivan Basso. I donít know where that is in the negotiations of the team, though; whether they've bought anyone for that role. I think we'll be mostly be a team like Alessio; an Italian team that does well in the classics, and goes for stages in the Giro and the tour... One day races, and smaller stage races.
Do you have any idea who will be on the team with you?
Well, I don't want to say any names, and I'm not sure exactly who. A few guys have been bounced aroundÖ
And, is it looking good? Thumbs up, or what?
Yeah, definitely, it's a good thing. I think this is the team that could put the lead-out together for me. They're Italians, and Italians have always been known for great lead-out teams, and that's what I'm looking for.
Basically, I think if everything goes well, I could grow into this being my Cipollini-style team. I mean, Cipollini has had a lot of success in creating a team around him, and I don't want to do exactly what he's done, but I want to get a good group around me.
I hope that works out for you, because it seems like, if things lined up for you, you're really close to winning a lot more races.
Definitely. I'm a winner - that's what I like to do, and having a team always makes a difference. I don't think many people outside our little circle of cycling realize how hard it is to get a team to work, because it's got to be all about one person winning, and what your teammates get out of your victory is so much less. Getting guys to get motivated to perform for the sake of someone else's result is really difficult.
But, that's one of the most compelling aspects of the sport to me.
It is. You see guys really sacrifice themselves completely when it works.
If you could have everything worked out perfectly next season, what would your focus be? Where do you really hope to shine?
Well, I do well in the sprints and tour stages, but I still think I'm really more of a Classics rider. That's why I went to Domo, when it split up between Mapei and Domo. I wanted to work with guys like Johan Museeuw and Wilfred Peters to learn to really become a Classics rider. I still think that's really my forte - those one day, World Cup events. Other than stage racing, that's the other direction to really lead into in this sport.
If you look at it, when I ride the Tour de France, it's a lot tougher for me than it is for some guys because I'm not a climber. When it's not a climber's stage, the climbers sit on the drafts in the peloton and take it easy, waiting for their turn; but guys like me have to suffer to get to the line and make sure we have our chance again, and then go into the mountains! So, Tour racing isnít really made for guys that are little bigger, or sprinters. I still think my best shot is the one day World Cups.
You're pretty solid over those shorter, steep climbs, that characterize a lot of those Classics races, are't you?
Yeah. As long as it's one day, and I just need to concentrate on going well in the climbs for one day, I can do it, even though my body is going to pay for it the next day. But, that's basically why I put my energy into the one day races, because if I can just concentrate on that one day, and really perform, I've got my best chance.
How long do you see yourself continuing to race your bike?
Thinking about that, I project the mid-30's - like 35 or so. I've just turned 30, now. So, that's what I project. I think at 35 I'll kind of think about whether it's time to shut it down or if there's more I can do. But, at the same time, if I feel like I'm not meeting my goals, I'll shut it down earlier. As long as I'm progressing, I'll keep doing it.
Fred Rodriguez will join us in the Daily Peloton chatroom to answer your questions on December 1st, at 11:30 PST. We'll start the chat with a few pre-submitted questions, so drop us a line if there's anything you'd like to ask Freddie, and stay tuned for more details!
Rodriguez on the podium in Georgia