Joaquim Rodríguez quietly put an end to his 17-year racing career. Not quite with the exclamation point he wanted, but fifth place in the Olympic road race was the ideal place to hang up his cleats.
“This is the way I wanted to end my career, racing like I always do, attacking, and trying to win,” Rodríguez said. “I was in for the win, all the way to the end.”
The 37-year-old puncheur came close to the storybook ending he wanted to have on his career. With the race exploding Saturday on the Vista Chinesa climb, Rodríguez clawed his way back into contention after Spain dropped the ball in the most critical part of the race. Italy had played its cards perfectly, with Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali linking up with a teammate going into the third and final lap. Spain was caught snoozing, but Rodríguez went down swinging. After Nibali and Sergio Henao (Colombia) crashed, Rodríguez was second in the chase group to finish fifth.
“It’s a shame because I felt like I had a medal in my legs,” Rodríguez said. “I always said I wanted to retire here.”
With Rodríguez’s exit, the sun is starting to set on the golden era of Spanish cycling. Others of his generation — Samuel Sánchez, Alberto Contador, and Alejandro Valverde — are also entering their final years. Between the four of them, they dominated the peloton, winning on some of cycling’s most important races.
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