The world champion faces four-legged challenger, Phonak challenge IOC, Spanish team under threat.
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The Valencia criterium always throws up some kind of unusual contest, and this coming Sunday’s follows what has become a bizarre tradition as world champion Oscar Freire is set to be matched against a horse. Images of the Spaniard taking on the modern equivalent of Seabiscuit or Shergar should be banished as Freire’s equine opponent will be from the trotting side of horsey competition. For those not conversant with this discipline, it consists of a horse pulling a jockey in a small cart behind not too dissimilar to a Roman chariot, although the jockey is seated rather than adopting a Ben Hur-like standing position. Freire and the horse Duc de Rietort with jockey Felipe Hernandez will take each other on over two laps of the Valencia criterium course. In previous editions of the Valencia challenge, Italian climber Claudio Chiappucci took on skating star Sheila Herrero, motorcycle ace Hector Barbera was pitted against Abraham Olano and last year rally driver Luis Climent took on Igor Astarloa and Gilberto Simoni. – The legal team representing Phonak are set to challenge in the International Olympic Committee over the validity of the test for blood doping that has recently produced positive results against Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Perez. – An announcement by the Colombian telecommunications company Orbitel that they are pulling out of the sport has left the Spanish Cafs Baqu team without a much-needed co-sponsor and in danger of collapse. The Basque-based coffee company has indicated that it will continue the search for new co-sponsors after Orbitel revealed that a budgetary re-evaluation had forced them to quit cycling. Cafs Baqu have said that even if the elite team they have backed for the past two seasons does fold, they will still continue to support cycling at lower levels as they have done for the past 27 years.