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The opening ceremony for the 2005 world road race championships takes place in Madrid today (Tuesday) with several notable absentees, including the top brass from the International Cycling Union, who are boycotting the ceremony (see separate story) and defending men's road champion Oscar Freire, who is sidelined by injury.
While the UCI's boycott makes clear their disgruntlement with the championships' organising federation and underlines the increasing disharmony on the management side of the sport, Freire bitterly regrets his absence. Winner of the world title on three occasions, the Spaniard has missed the chance to become the first man to win the rainbow jersey four times, and in his national capital to boot.
Interviewed by AS, the injury-accustomed Freire admitted he had got used to the idea of not competing in Madrid, but acknowledged that he expects to feel a great deal of envy when he watches the main event of the championships taking place on Sunday. "I'm not going to be in Madrid," said Freire, "but I will be watching the race at home in Switzerland. It's not a case of me not having been invited. Simply that I didn't want to come to Madrid."
Freire explained that he wouldn't have felt comfortable being at a championships where he wasn't taking part. "I will feel some pain I'm sure, but I don't think I should go," he said.
The Rabobank rider is back in light training after an operation to remove clotted blood from an injury in his pelvic area, basically right in the position where he puts most of his weight on the saddle. "I could have forced things and come back for a couple of races this year, but it wasn't worth the risk. The best thing is to recuperate fully and start strongly again next season," he explained.
Freire selected Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen as his two main favourites, but also mentioned Discovery Channel's Max van Heeswijk, "who is also suited to this circuit". He feels that the Spanish team will have a tough time making an impression against what is likely to be firm control from the Italians.
Freire also regretted the recent furore over Lance Armstrong's alleged EPO positive at the 1999 Tour, both because of the damage that has been done to the American and also to the sport in general, which, he said, is losing out to others because of such stories. "The worst of it is how the image of cyclists is changing. Before the Festina affair in 1998 the riders were heroes, and Armstrong was also hailed as a champion when he won his first Tour in 1999, but look how he is viewed now," said the Spaniard.
"I think the problem is in all the information provided. There shouldn't be so much talk about doping, because I think that it just serves to increase the level of doping. I think that if a rider tests positive then they should be contacted directly and told and then suspended, but without giving any publicity to it. I am all for punishment behind closed doors," he explained.
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