By Joe Martone
As a cyclist, there are some obstacles you have to be careful about. The worst ones are those that nature provides. Constant uphill trails, downhill trails, swift turns, uneven roads and more await the riders of the AMGEN Tour of California Bike Race this week. The seven-day cycling event through the Golden State, wrapping up May 20, notably takes a huge turn into Big Bear for the Stage 6 finish, where the riders are going to need to pull everything they’ve got to get through.
Not so much for Freddie Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Fast Freddie.” For the former Los Angeles native, this is like going home.
“I went to the camp up at Big Bear when I was a kid,” Rodriguez tells the Weekly. “I grew up in L.A., my father opened up a bike shop in Riverside. When I was a kid, he gave me my first 10-speed, and my dad would say ‘Hey, let’s go riding!’ and he would drop me off at the mountain there, and so it brings back a lot of fond memories.”
Fond memories? Any of them helpful for the trip?
“I can’t remember them exactly,” he says. “I was 11 years old. I have no idea. But it brings my childhood back. But for me, racing in this area, I grew up in both the Bay Area and Downtown L.A. This is my hometown race.”
Even if this trip wasn’t Rodriguez’s homecoming race, he’s still got a lot to his advantage. He’s been to Luxembourg, Italy and Malaysia racing with the likes of Lance Armstrong. He’s also been a National Road Champion on three separate occasions. The big challenge now resides in working with his new team, Team Energy.
“This is one of the events where I’m the older guy; I’m 38,” Rodriguez says. “I have spent many years over in Europe racing at the top level. This is a great group of people that I’m working with, the riders that I’m working with are very young and motivated and getting the best results they can.”
Not that he’s complaining about the change though. Rodriguez is enjoying the change of pace, and has found that he’s kind of a team player.
“It’s good. It’s different. I’ve always been a rider focusing on getting results for myself alone and now I’m working for getting the best out of myself and my teammates too.”
He means it. Controversy has erupted lately over team riders overtaking their leader in races, where protocol usually keeps them behind in support. Rodriguez, however, disagrees with this tradition.
“I think it’s vice versa,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve got to give leadership to other athletes. As team leaders, you’ve got to recognize, make a quick decision and tell them, ‘Listen we need think. What’s the plan here?’ Maybe we’ll get a better outcome. It’s about the leader getting personal and understanding that maybe he’s not having a great day and he needs to turn around and put one of his younger riders on duty. Some riders have a hard time letting that go. It’s something that you learn over time.”
Despite the difficult route ahead of him, Rodriguez is up to the challenge.
“I tend to find that the bigger the race, the better the results I get,” he says. “I don’t know why, I’m a sprinter that tends to do well the harder the race is.”
Rodriguez and Team Energy have a tough road ahead of them, but they look forward to the challenge. While Rodriguez admits that this is going to “bring every emotion out,” he’s still excited for what he considers the team’s biggest race this year.
“We wanna be winners. We wanna go out and give it everything we have, while having fun.”