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Freddie Rodriguez may have the moniker 'Fast Freddie' on the top tube of his bike, but the 31-year-old former American national champion is these days working more for Davitamon-Lotto team-mate Robbie McEwen - "the fastest sprinter in the world right now," according to Rodriguez - than for his own interests.
Rodriguez, who in five starts has only finished the Tour once, is among the large group of riders who will now ride a race within a race as they battle for survival over what amounts to almost a week of mountain stages.
"We've already had a warm-up in the Vosges," he said at today's start village in Grenoble. "So once we hit the first climb, the sprinters will just try to ride in the gruppetto and save as much energy as they can. For us, it's pretty hard climbing already."
Rodriguez, now in his ninth year as a pro, admitted that the big mountain stages still made him nervous. "Yes, you still get a little apprehensive," he said. "You don't know how you're going to feel, and we had a rest day. Sometimes you get a better rest day than on other days.
"But we had a great rest day - we stayed in a chateau outside the city, so it was nice and relaxed. We had a lot of sleep so, all in all, I think it was one of my better rest days."
Rodriguez admitted that, unlike the team leaders who often reconnoitre the key passes, he and his fellow sprinters relied on the advice of their climbing specialist team-mates for advice on the particularities of each climb. "We've got guys like Mario Aerts and Cadel Evans who pre-rode the climbs and for them it's very important that they know exactly what's coming.
"So they have relayed some information to us," he said. "We take if for what it is and try to use it to our best advantage. But you could have a bad day, so you need to save as much energy as you can to keep your gun loaded for that bad day, when you might need everything you have."
But the Davitamon-Lotto rouleur has been also keeping his eye on form at the front of the peloton: "If everything goes well for him and Discovery keep it together the way it is, Lance is showing that he's by far the best-prepared guy in the race. Ullrich is still there and CSC are showing that they're a greatteam, so there could be a wild card in there, you never know.
"Bobby Julich, looks good, Levi Leipheimer looks good - they all seem to have really good teams and that's making it harder on Lance. But can they break apart his team? I would say, however, that there's a higher level this year across the board, You see it in the average speeds of the peloton. I think that the ProTour has brought the top guys together more."
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