‘Fast Freddie’ brings cycling passion to Valley | RecordCourier.com

‘Fast Freddie’ brings cycling passion to Valley

Fred Rodriguez speaks to students at Gardnerville Elementary School on Wednesday as a promotion for the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease women's cycling race that will pass through Carson Valley today.
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Stage two of the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race will bring cyclists through Alpine County and Carson Valley today starting at approximately 10:25 a.m. from South Lake Tahoe. Through traffic at Kingsbury Grade is scheduled to be held at 12:30 p.m.

Fred Rodriguez is an American cycling icon whose resume includes four U.S. national road racing championships and seven appearances in the Tour de France.

On Wednesday the retired star known as “Fast Freddie” was front and center in a different role when he stood before elementary school students to promote the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race that will pass through Carson Valley today. As he spoke at Minden and Gardnerville elementary schools, Rodriguez recalled how his passion for cycling grew from watching the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and when it came time to pose for photographs, his wide smile said it all.

“It’s my passion now,” Rodriguez said. “I have my own foundation, the Fast Freddie Foundation, and our goal is to inspire young underprivileged kids to have a better life through cycling. Our goal is for them to get the same benefits from the sport that I did.”

Today, the Amgen women take on a challenging second stage that starts from Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Riders will follow a 67.1-mile route that includes 7,740-foot Luther Pass, Diamond Valley in Alpine County, Foothill Road on the west side of Carson Valley and back to South Lake Tahoe via 7,344-foot Daggett Pass on top of Kingsbury Grade.

“That’s going to be a tough stage,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, we’re talking about altitude, mountains and the distance. Those three things put together are going to make for a really challenging stage. And then you need the technical skills to get down the hill and be in the right position in the lead group so you can win the race.”

American Megan Guarnier is the defending Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race champion and the current UCI Women’s World Tour champion.

Rodriguez, who raced in the Amgen Tour of California eight times, is obviously looking forward to the men’s race that begins on Sunday in Sacramento and finishes in Pasadena on May 20.

“I’m biased because I grew up in California, so it’s my favorite race,” said Rodriguez, who raced professionally from the mid-1990s until his retirement in 2015. “You’re racing through some of the most beautiful countryside and you’re also getting some of the best riders from all over the world.”

Who are some of the riders to watch this year? Julian Alaphilippe of France became the youngest rider win the Amgen title in 2016 at age 23.

“If he comes again, he definitely could definitely win,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez mentioned his own “fan favorite,” Peter Sagan, a two-time world champion holds an Amgen record with 15 stage victories.

“I raced against Peter for many years and not only is he a genuine person, he’s a great athlete and he’s a superstar,” Rodriguez said. “Rarely do you find an athlete who puts all those things together so well. He loves the sport and he loves coming back to California every year to compete.”

As for his own love for the sport, Rodriguez looked back to a time shortly before his 11th birthday when he watched the men’s road race at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“My dad was a cyclist and I remember he took me to the ’84 Olympics, so I was right there at the finish when Alexi Grewal won the Olympics,” he said. “I got the opportunity to see the U.S. win a gold medal and I was so inspired. That’s when I decided I wanted to do this sport.”

Rodriguez now lives in Berkeley, Calif., and devotes his work to passing that passion on to other youngsters and on Wednesday — which was National Bike to School Day — he spoke to Carson Valley students about cycling, the importance of safety, following rules of the road, wearing helmets and more. He had only one regret.

“Now that I have three kids of my own, it’s important for me to show them that (passion for cycling),” he said. “I’ve been riding my kids to school and I’m kind of bummed out that today is Bike to School Day and I don’t get to ride with my kids. But I’m here hopefully inspiring a lot of kids to go out and do this, and their parents, too. We’re doing this great program where we’re teaching the kids safety and relaying that to the parents, and creating a program where we as people feel safe to go out there ride our bikes. And the more of us who do it, the safer it’s going to get.”