Having announced his retirement after the 2016 Olympic Games but then indicating that he may continue competing in 2017 with the Bahrain Merida team, Joaquim Rodriguez has finally made the decision that he is done with professional competition.
The Spaniard confirmed his definite retirement on Friday, saying that he will work as part of the team’s technical staff until the end of 2019, but won’t race a bike again.
“After taking enough time to think and also trying to come back to a working routine, I realized it was not possible for me,” he said in a team statement. “So, with the support of my family and friends, I decided not to come back to the competition at the highest of levels.
“I would like to thank everyone that supported me to come back; I am honoured and you really made my decision difficult, but I believe it is better not to come back if I am not sure I can do it at the top level and be competitive to offer my fans what they deserve.”
Rodriguez also thanked the team for giving him the possibility of racing again, but said after speaking to them that he has realised he is not physically or mentally ready to race at the top level.
The past few months appear to have been a swirl of emotions for the former world number one. He indicated he was done with competition after Rio 2016 but then in early September both he and his Katusha team said he would keep racing.
It became clear that he was doing so due to the team’s demands that he finish the year and honour the terms of his contract, and Rodriguez somewhat reluctantly pinned a number on again.
Expectations that he would be finished at the end of the year were confounded when he announced in October that he would don Bahrain-Merida colours in 2017 prior to transitioning into a technical role.
“My decision to leave the competition has always been firm, but Bahrain Merida proposed a very interesting project to me and assured me that I will feel so comfortable and motivated with them that I have decided to put a race number on my back for one more year,” he said then.
“That’s also the reason they have offered me to be part of their important team roster for 2017 and the exciting opportunity to work within the technical staff for 2018 and 2019. So I have the possibility to return to the races, otherwise I would never have had this exciting opportunity.”
However, very soon afterwards, he himself raised doubts about this. At the time some interpreted the signing as a bid by the team to secure world ranking points and thus make sure it would have a WorldTour licence in 2017. At the time there were 18 teams going for 17 slots, raising the possibility that one team would have to make do with a Pro Continental licence.
Since then the UCI changed the upper limit to 18 teams and, on November 25, announced that Bahrain-Merida plus 16 other teams would be given the top level licences.
This week it emerged that there is uncertainty about the final squad vying for a place, TJ Sport.
Whether or not that team ultimately takes its place alongside the other squads, it is clear that Rodriguez’ participation on Bahrain-Merida’s roster is not necessary for the team to begin as a WorldTour squad.
It is unclear if this was a factor in his final decision.
Team General Manager Brent Copeland said that the team respected his choice.
“We support Purito with this difficult decision,” he stated. “We know how hard it is for a professional cyclist to end his racing career and we wanted to give him the opportunity to end his career with our team. We left the final decision up to him and wanted him to be free with what he best decided.
“As we have said before the first contact with Joaquin was made with the intention of him working with the technical staff of the team so we are pleased that he has decided to continue in this direction. The opportunity for our riders and staff to use his priceless experience and knowledge is something that is worth an immense amount to the team. We take pride in having Purito in this position. There is no better way to support a rider with his kind of personality, expertize and knowledge than offer him an important role of this sort.”
During a 16 year professional career Rodriguez earned the reputation as one of the best uphill riders in the sport. His climbing ability and explosiveness earned him victory in La Flèche Wallonne plus two editions of Il Lombardia, the national road championships, stage races such as the Volta a Catalunya and stage victories in all three Grand Tours.
In addition to nine stage wins in the Vuelta a España, he was also second overall last year.