PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
This time last year, then world champion Oscar Freire was enjoying a period of grace in his racing form that carried him to three stage wins and overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico. A subsequent victory at the Brabantse Pijl in Belgium only underlined the Spaniard's potential going into the northern Classics, but Freire was already starting to have problems with the 'sit bone' injury that effectively meant his 2005 season was all but over at the end of March.
A year on, and Freire is set to return to Tirreno tomorrow hoping for a long overdue change of fortune. Although his preparation for this season was further hit by knee problems thought to have been caused by a swap to the introduction of a new bike for his Rabobank team, Freire admits his 'sit bone' problem has almost cleared up and he is now eager to turn his focus back to racing after a year that only increased talk of the curse that supposedly hangs over the world champion's rainbow jersey.
"I am not going to Tirreno to try to win the race," Freire says in this morning's edition of AS. "That's a shame because there are several stages with rolling finishes and the final section to the line on a slight climb which would be ideal for me if I was in form. But what I will be doing is trying to get involved in the sprints.
"I don't imagine that I will be at the same level as Petacchi or Bettini, but at the very least I have to get myself back in there with them. All I am lacking now is race condition and I have to find that because my goal is to arrive at Milan-San Remo [on March 18] in good condition. That race is my principal objective.
Freire came up against Petacchi and Tom Boonen at the recent Ruta del Sol in Spain, but deliberately held back from competing in the sprints there, two of which were taken by the Italian, one by the Belgian. "I only went there to pick up form," Freire explains. "I've still got some discomfort with my injury but it's not unbearable, but I can't complain."
Whatever the level of Freire's form at Tirreno, it will be good to see him back. Always classy on the bike and never afraid to state bold opinions off it, the Spaniard has been missed.
- Boonen, meanwhile, admitted after his win on stage one of Paris-Nice yesterday that he'd be on the verge of asking the organisers to shorten the stage because the weather was so poor. "We had a really s*** day," said the world champion. "Nobody wanted to ride hard in that weather and the climbs were a real struggle. Seventy kilometres from the finish I was ready to go to the organisers and ask them to remove the final finishing circuit [of 18km], but Kevin Hulsmans told me that the breakaways were more than eight minutes clear and that we wouldn't be able to get them back if that was done." As they were caught just 6km from home, Kevin's advice was clearly spot on.
- The Belgian Unibet.com team protested against their non-selection for any of the three major tours by wearing red armbands in races at the weekend. It is not hard to understand the team's chagrin at being passed over for wild cards given to teams that are all below them in the European Continental standings.
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM