The lead for today is the re-retirement of Joaquim Rodriguez, who surprisingly decided earlier this fall to extend his career, after previously announcing that 2016 would be his final season on the bike. Now, Rodriguez is back to being officially retired, and joining the Bahrain-Merida team in a non-athlete capacity.
CyclingNews has a nice roundup of what it all means, including the possibility that it was all just a ploy for the team to include his World Tour points, which became unnecessary when the World Tour let the team in for 2017. They also do an overview of his career.
But we all know the story here. Rodriguez was an ace lieutenant to Alejandro Valverde at Caisse d’Epargne for a few years of impressive work before gaining his freedom and riding for his own glory at Katusha, which went on for seven highly successful seasons. But that success — regular high finishes and breakthrough classics wins — came at a price of high expectations in the grand tours, which went rather dramatically unfulfilled. Actually Rodriguez earned admission to the exclusive club of riders to finish on the podium of all three grand tours, something that has only been accomplished by 17 individuals. But he joins Herman Van Springel as the only riders from that group to never win one.
The cruelty of this distinction was never more acutely felt than at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, where he surrendered his hold on the maglia rosa on the final stage of the race, where Ryder Hesjedal reversed a 31 second deficit on the time trial in Milan, winning the Giro by 16 seconds, the second-closest result in the race’s history. Rodriguez also yielded the Vuelta a Espana’s Maillot Rojo in three different years, usually for the same reason: inability to time-trial.
But a string of high-profile classic wins lifted his career out of this gloomy “almost-not-quite” distinction, starting with a long-overdue success at La Fleche Wallonne in 2012 (shortly before his Giro anguish), and a confirming Monument win at the Giro di Lombardia that same tumultuous year. Third place in the Vuelta and his Giro runner-up added to his one-day wins to make him a dominant overall winner of the World Rankings. Talk about making lemonade. The following season he added another Lombardia win, and took second in both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the World Championships, repeating his #1 ranking for the third time in four seasons.
“Purito” with his climbing ability will have him remembered as one of the world’s greatest riders of his time, without a doubt. [Oh, and per inner ring, the nickname isn’t so much about being clean as it is about an old inside joke with his team involving miniature “purito” cigars.] His success came about as the sport tried to revive itself after two decades of rampant doping, and Rodriguez’ clean record — while not an iron-clad assurance — at least made him a positive figure for his era. Which is more than you can say for an awful lot of riders of his age.
Rodriguez slipped to 38th in the world this year but was seventh as recently as last year, and finished his career... well, by taking a DNF in Lombardia, but that was a ceremonial appearance forced by his team, for some bizarre reason. His last real effort saw him fifth in the Olympics, and fourth the week before in San Sebastian. He finished seventh overall in his final Tour de France, at age 37.
This weekend’s cyclocross action in Europe takes place at the DVV series event the GP Rouwmoer in Essen, north of Antwerp on the Dutch border. That’s flat country, and the course is gently rolling at best. In fact, I’m not sure what the race is known for, maybe some pretty trees? But if it rains, it will be a swampy mess. Praying for rain...
Speaking of trees, Lars Boom (a/k/a Lars Tree) is back on his ‘Cross bike, but away from the weight of human curiosity, in Spain. The plan for the Astana classics ace (departing shortly for LottoNL-Jumbo) is to keep his presence in the sport where he won a world title and could have been a dominant force -- this year, by warming up with a trio of Basque races before going up with the world’s best in Belgium during Christmas Week. From there he hopes to take another stab at the world title, where he was 14th last year thanks in part to some back soreness. For Boom, that experience paid off with some nice form in the spring Classics, according to him, and he’d like to repeat that benefit. But he’s also in it to win. Not easy in today’s environment but no reason not to try, apparently.
Speaking of famous Dutch comebacks, Marianne Vos begins hers next weekend at the Scheldecross. Vos owns seven world titles in the discipline, and isn’t looking up at quite as steep a climb back to the top of the women’s field, with plenty of rivals like Sanne Cant and Thalita de Jongh, but none quite as dynamic as the young duo dominating on the men’s side. More on that next week.