Though he took the line looking ready to go, it was a bit of a sad day for Fred Rodriguez at USPRO this year.
A lingering, stubborn case of bronchitis sidelined him with about 25 km to go. A brief chat with Fred in the elevator of the hotel after the race revealed his disappointment. He did his best but couldn't breathe on the climb when the racing got hard, and though he was forced to retire out of the stars and stripes jersey, Fred's a fighter and he'll be back!
In this, the second part of my interview with Rodriguez from the race hotel in Philadelphia the day before the USPRO race, he talks about his spring season, what keeps him turning over the pedals, how he thinks the sport can best move into the future, and his new foray into the coffee business.
What about your spring season, Fred? Were you excited, or was it frustrating to be second in MSR and Ghent-Wevelgem?
I was excited that my form was there and I was proving that I was a player... that I AM a player.
I knew I was a player, and I kind of proved that to the crowd, but at the same time, I didn't cross the finish line first, and if I don't cross the finish line first, I don't feel like I accomplished what I set out to achieve. Second's not bad, but it's not the best. I went into the last corner, that last 100 meters in Milan San Remo thinking I was going to win. I only knew I wasn't going to win about 50 meters out when I knew I wasn't going to come around Cipollini.
But Cipollini is pretty amazing! His wins always seem so inexorable! What were you thinking when he bridged up to your break in Ghent-Wevelgem?
I wasn't going to work the break, but my director, Marc, told me "Cipollini's coming across!" We'd just come off a hard climb, so I thought "Maybe he's just coming back onto the main break." But Marc was saying "Go as hard as you can! Start sprinting!" and I was like "Huh? What? What are you talking about?" and I looked back and there was Cipollini!
At that point, I told my director "Alright, I'm shutting it down. The odds just aren't favorable!" but Marc said "Wait! Wait a minute!" He talked to the other guys on the team, and talked to Johan [Museeuw] and then came back to me and said "They're not feeling too good, this is our best chance!" I told him I wasn't feeling too good about it.
There was a chance I could win, but there's a chance I could lose, too. We had three other guys in the chase, and I wanted to bring them back in. I'm not selfish, and I'd rather see the team win than for me to get second, but at that point Mark said, "No, take your best shot."
I played my cards, but at the same time, Cipollini created alliances with some other guys and pretty much cancelled me out. There weren't really any opportunities to attack, and in the end, I did a really bad sprint. I just did everything wrong in that race!
But second to Cipollini isn't bad!
Yeah... First loser. At that point, that's how I felt. That I was the first loser.
Same in Milan-San Remo?
Milan-San Remo was a lot more gratifying. Just for the fact that it was such a big race.
I proved to my team that I was capable of being a leader, and that's what carried me through the classics. They were waiting for me to step up to the plate, and so far, the year before I hadn't really done that; but this year I did, and I followed through for the rest of the Classics. Not having any experience in the Classics, and this being really my first year of riding them, I did fantastic, but at the same time, I wanted to win.
But that's always the same thing, when you're always trying to over-achieve, then you're never happy, because there's always a bigger goal that you didn't reach.
What do you love about the sport? What keeps you at it?
I've always been an over-achiever. You want to set high goals, and go out there and achieve them, and be successful, and then just keep going, keep improving in the sport and doing new things. Keep putting yourself on the spot. When you've put yourself up there, and put everything on the line and you've won, it's just a great feeling.
There are times when I've put everything on the line and lost, and I'm torn apart, but then you just have to get out there and do it all again. I think that's what makes me stronger. I turn around and do it again. If I look at my whole career, and going back to when I was a junior, I was a talented rider, but there were a lot of guys as talented as I was. The difference is that I always get up and keep coming back. I lost some, I won some, and then I lost again, but in this sport, most of the time we lose!
It's a bit of a humbling sport.
Yeah, I mean, think about it, there's only a few Cipollinis and Lance Armstrongs that win everything, and not even those guys win all the time.
Where do you see cycling heading in the future?
Well, in Europe especially, I think the sport has gotten to the point where it's kind of stagnating in some ways, and looking for something new. Sponsors are... not so much dying out... but new sponsors need to come in and take over, and I'd like to see it be sponsors like US Postal: global companies that can bring the sport to another level... Companies that are marketed well and are big world wide companies. The result of that could be more big races in other parts of the world.
Like what they've done with Formula 1 racing, spreading their World Cup races out over the world. I'd like to see this race [USPRO] become a World Cup race.
You told me the other day that the sport needs to start getting away from it's European traditionalism, what did you mean by that?
The tradition is that European pros get to stay home, race in their hometowns, and not travel too much, only within Europe.
If everyone had to travel more, one of the things they have to cut back is our racing schedule. I mean, I race 100 races a year, and I won't be able to do that and concentrate on bigger races, but at the same time, there would be more money in it, and we'll be able to do less races.
Right now, sponsors are trying to maximize their dollar, and say "Ok. Put the guys in 100 races! They'll win more, there'll be more exposure!" Instead they could looking at it another way, and that other aspect is, let's concentrate on developing big events with bigger global exposure. I think that's where eventually the sport should go, and that's kind of what I think Lance Armstrong is showing to the sport, and what the American culture of business is bringing to it.
I understand you are going into the coffee business; is that right, Fred?
Yeah, I am. It's called Fast Freddy's Turbo Blend, and it's blended by a roasting company called The Americana Company. It's a dark roast... I wouldn't say it's a French or Italian roast, but it's a dark roast that you can drink a lot of. I drink a lot of coffee myself, so it's something I would like, with a lot of flavor and good taste, but not something that's going to charge you up too much.
Sounds good! How did you hook that up?
Well, I've always loved coffee, and I live in the Bay Area where a lot of the big coffee companies are based, like Peet's and Starbucks, so I'm in the right area to start a coffee business. It was out of the blue, really, I met this guy and we started talking recently and he said "Yeah! If you really like coffee, let's make a blend."
It's going to be on my website, and eventually on the Wrench Science website, which I'm the spokesman for, and in bike shops.
You can read all about Fred and keep up with his excellent race diaries on his website.
The Daily Peloton has some special gratitude for Fred and for his good grace with regard to this interview. Let's just say that Fred is a patient man, my dear readers...
Thanks again, Fred!