Oscar Freire Interview: Cavendish is biggest barrier to fourth Sanremo win
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oscar Freire Interview: Cavendish is biggest barrier to fourth Sanremo win

by Shane Stokes at 9:42 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Milan-Sanremo
Katusha’s Spanish star gives his thoughts on eve of Italian Classic

Oscar FreireIt’s his farewell season and he’s now 36 years of age, but Oscar Freire’s strong start to 2012 means that the triple world champion is still one to watch in relation to the favourites for Saturday’s Milan-Sanremo Classic.

The Spaniard has returned to form after moving from the Rabobank squad to the the Katusha team, winning stage four of the Santos Tour Down Under in January and taking stage three of the Vuelta a Andalucia one month later.

Exactly one week ago he was runner-up to Mark Cavendish on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico, being outpaced by the current world champion into Indicatore. Freire started his sprint on Cavendish’s wheel and moved up his right side, appearing to stall slightly as the Sky Procycling rider drifted slightly towards the barriers, then accelerating again.

He was moving faster than Cavendish in the final 50 metres but ran out of time, crossing the line less than half a bike length behind.

Freire missed out on the win, but wasn’t too far off. The sprint was further evidence that he still has much of his speed and, given his ability to ride fast at the end of a long distance Classic, he will be marked out as a dangerman by the Sky Procycling team.

Equally, he sees the Manxman as his own biggest threat, in terms of chasing victory on Saturday. Providing both riders are in contention after the Poggio, he knows who he has to be most aware of.

“I think the main rival will be Cavendish because he is strong and has a very good team that can help him,” Freire told VeloNation, responding to a question about which rider concerns him most in relation to Saturday’s race.

“After him, in terms of others, I think of the Liquigas duo of Peter Sagan and Vincenzo Nibali, who can take advantage of tactics and team strategy, as well as Cancellara, Goss and Boonen. There are plenty of good riders who could win.”

Freire’s preparations have gone to plan and he is in a good position heading into the race.

“My shape is more or less as good as previous seasons at the period,” he confirmed. “However this year I’ve won more. Milan-Sanremo has almost always been one of the key moments of my year, so I've always tried to take part in this event at my best.”

Of course, some riders will wake up with better legs than others on Saturday and luck plus tactics will also play a big part, but right now he’s where he needs to be. As the hours tick down until the start, he’s got the peace of mind of knowing that he’s done things right prior to his last participation in La Primavera.

All going well in new team colours:

Oscar FreireGiven his ability to sprint but also to deal with the distances and punchy climbs of the race, Freire will be closely marked. The fact that he’s still a contender at his age is testimony to his ability to remain focused on the sport, but there was a time last autumn when it all appeared to be over.

His contract with the Rabobank team had ended and, after nine full years with the squad, renewal negotiations broke down. He initially told the team that he was likely to stop, then changed his mind; Rabobank lost patience, and decided that it was no longer interested.

Katusha saw the opportunity and stepped in, signing him for 2012. Thus far, the deal has worked very well and the change has appeared to have given Freire’s career a new boost.

“I'm happy to be in Katusha,” he confirmed. “There are a lot of Spanish riders which I'm getting along well with, and also some members of the staff I've already known from my previous experiences.

“I think the team spirit is great: for example, in Tirreno-Adriatico everybody worked for me or Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], and everybody was really happy with Rodriguez victory. I think I did the right choice.”

He said that this group cohesion is something that he should be able to draw upon when the kilometres count down and the difficulty level ramps up during Saturday’s Classic.

“Everybody's giving his best for the team: we reached some nice results in this first part of the season, thanks to our team spirit and work,” he said. “I think we’ll able to do the same in Milan-Sanremo.”

Freire’s long been a rider who responds well when his morale is strong, and he confirmed that he’s psyched by how things have gone this year.

“The victories [in the Santos Tour Down Under and Vuelta a Andalucia] gave me great motivations and morale, but I think also the second place in Tirreno-Adriatico behind Cavendish helped me to prove to myself I'm improving and I'm in good shape.”

In other words, it’s all systems go for Saturday.

2012 and beyond:

Oscar FreireFreire’s still clearly racing at a high level and would be excused if he’s tempted to ride one more season. However he’s insisting this one will indeed be his last. “

“My motivations remain the same because to try to win races is my job,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll continue riding in 2013.”

The aim then is to have the best farewell season possible in the peloton. Freire outlines the races he’ll do in these final few months; after Sanremo, he’ll compete in Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour de Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race. After that, he’ll aim for the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France, riding cycling’s biggest event for the final time, then go on to the Olympic Games.

There were suggestions that he could stop after that, but he will indeed carry on and try to take a record fourth Elite world championship title. Freire tells VeloNation that he’ll schedule an approach to the worlds, but that the programme in the buildup to that won’t include the Vuelta a Espana.

His career record will therefore stand at seven stage wins in that event. However, as his early results and current attitude shows, Oscarito has still considerable potential to expand his palmares elsewhere prior to finally calling it a day. There's life in El Gato yet.


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