Oscar Freire was quick to pay tribute to the Spanish team in his post-Worlds press conference, partiPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The modesty which characterises Oscar Freire was very much in evidence minutes after the Spaniard claimed his second world championship victory in Verona, and third in total. At his post-race press conference Freire was amused more than flattered when it was pointed out that only Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenenberg and Eddy Merckx had previously completed world championship hat-tricks. The Cantabrian then paid generous tribute to a Spanish team which boasted four riders in the 15-man group which Freire headed on the Corso Porta Nuova. He particularly singled out Alejandro Valverde, whose brilliant lead-out ensured that Freire was never under threat from Erik Zabel or Luca Paolini in the final 50 metres. "Five laps from the finish, Alejandro and spoke to each other and he immediately said that he would work for me in the finale," Freire recalled. "In the sprint I knew that Stuart O'Grady and Erik Zabel could be dangerous but I decided to put my trust in Valverde, who made sure that I entered the final 200 metres in the lead. Alejandro should receive more recognition in his team and in cycling in general. Tonight, I know that I owe him a lot. "This team isn't only about me," Freire continued. "Valverde could have won today for himself. The work that Nozal set on the penultimate lap was also essential to eliminate some potentially dangerous guys. "I think that my success here six years ago was my greatest triumph," Freire said later of his breakthrough win in Verona in 1999. "I felt very emotional when I trained on the route this week; the memories of '99 came flooding back." So attached did Freire become to Verona in 1999, indeed, that he returned to the city with Laura, the fiance who last year became his wife, two weeks after his victory. The pair booked a hotel room adjacent to the finish line. From here the love-struck Freire would gaze out towards the finishing straight every morning. After Juliet came Oscar, custodians of the most famous balconies in Verona.