Antequera: Total faith in Oscar

Spain's coach and riders reflect on Oscar Freire's third Worlds win and on how it was truly a victor

Spain’s coach and riders reflect on Oscar Freire’s third Worlds win and on how it was truly a victor

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE It is surprising to think that less than a decade ago Spain was still searching for its first world road champion. Back in 1995, in Duitama, Colombia, Abraham Olano became the first Spanish rider to take the title, riding home on a flat rear tyre ahead of a group that was led in by his compatriot Miguel Indurain. There was another mini-drought between Olano’s first Spanish success and Oscar Freire giving them their second, at Verona in 1999, but since then Spain has usurped Italy’s position as the nation to beat at the Worlds. Since Freire’s 1999 victory, Spain has taken six of the 18 medals on offer in the world road race championship, and will be heavily tipped to add to that impressive total on home soil next year in Madrid. Naturally, everyone attached to the Spanish team was delighted with Freire’s record-equalling third Worlds win. Team selector Paco Antequera said he was “extremely happy, because five years ago things were very different, Oscar’s win was unexpected, but now you would bet on it, we have got complete faith in Freire.” Antequera pointed out that the race worked in favour of the Spaniards, with the pace not too exceptional and no notable breaks by dangerous riders. However, Antequera added that if circumstances had been different, Spain had the riders to respond to any situation. “Bearing in mind the peace of mind we had with Oscar in our team, we didn’t need to attack or make the race any harder,” said Antequera. One of those other options Antequera was referring to was Alejandro Valverde, who provided Freire with the perfect lead-out at the finish. Second last year behind team-mate Igor Astarloa, Valverde was happy to see another Spaniard take the title this year. “Oscar Freire is a born winner, and he is also quicker than me,” said the precocious 24 year old. “The important thing is that we won. I am still young and will have other opportunities. “I kept on going after I led out Freire because I told myself I still might get a medal of my own. But clearly that was beyond me,” added Valverde, who finished sixth. “It doesn’t matter because I rode better than I was expecting to after having finished the Vuelta so fatigued.” “But this has been a team victory. For example, in the last kilometre, when Vinokourov attacked, I told Luis Perez to chase him down. We were all focused on the gold medal, and for that reason it is a team victory.” Paco Mancebo was another who played a key role on the last lap. “I was told to set a fast pace the last time up the climb and not to allow anyone to escape. We were battling head to head with the Italians, and we beat them,” said the Illes Balears rider who finished third in the Vuelta last weekend. GP Zurich winner Juan Antonio Flecha was delighted with how his first Worlds appearance had gone. “I gave all that I had to help my team-mates. At no time did we have any problems during the race, we controlled it to perfection. Antequera and Freire read the situation perfectly,” said Flecha. Freire’s victory sparked celebrations across his native region of Cantabria. Spectators watching the Real Santander-Sevilla football match in the region’s capital gave a prolonged standing ovation when the result from Verona was announced on the electronic scoreboard, while fireworks were set off all through the evening in Freire’s home town of Torrelavega.