Oscar Freire Interview: A record fourth worlds or retirement?
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oscar Freire Interview: A record fourth worlds or retirement?

by Shane Stokes at 10:36 AM EST   comments
Categories: Interviews, Track, World Championships
 
Three time winner aims for one last success

Oscar FreireHis first win was a complete surprise, his second was a confirmation, and his third felt almost like a foregone conclusion. Getting relatively close to the end of the 2004 worlds in Verona, this writer was in the finish stands with a rider from the earlier Under 23 race and a team media officer.

The subject of conversation was who would triumph in five laps’ time. The other two suggested several names but for this writer there was only one to consider: Oscar Freire.

The Spaniard duly went on to take his third world title that day, equalling the all time record, but it wasn’t a huge surprise. At that point in his career, when Freire was on form, it was hard to bet against him pulling off major victories; world titles, Milan-San Remo, Grand Tour titles all were chalked up.

Eight years on, Freire is older, wiser, but less bulletproof. He’s been listed as a contender for today’s race but plays down his chances somewhat, saying the punctured lung he suffered in the Tour de France has delayed his buildup. Still, he believes his form is good and doesn’t deem it impossible that he could snatch one more gold at 36 years of age.

If he does, he stays around one more year to honour the rainbow jersey. If not, this will be his big goodbye, a farewell to a glittering career which was interrupted by injuries but also earned him some of the very biggest prizes in the sport.

VeloNation spoke at length to Freire prior to today’s race, talking about his chances, his rivals, the course, his career, the difficulties of this year and his thoughts on retirement.


VeloNation: First off Oscar, how are you feeling? You had a big crash in the Tour and had to come back from that…

Oscar Freire: I feel ok. I didn’t have that much time to recover but after that I did some races. I started the Tour of Denmark with only two weeks training. So, maybe I’ve not had enough time to be in my very best condition but I think I did all I could till now. So, I hope to be in good shape and ready for the worlds.

VN: How did you feel in the most recent races? Did you feel like your form was coming?

OF: Ever day I feel better and better. When I started racing, it was really early…I still felt pain in my lung. Now it’s getting better…sometimes I feel something from it, but I think it is almost recovered. I can do all the training, I can do also the races now. I did good training also after the last race in Belgium, so I think I’m ok for my last race. I was really focused after the crash [in the Tour] on this race, because there wasn’t much time to do more races.

VN: How difficult was it for your morale when you crashed and had to pull out of the Tour? Was it a very hard moment?

OF: Yes, it was very hard, because I expected to be in the Olympics. It was a good circuit, it would’ve been my fourth time in the Olympic race. So, it was a good chance for me to win the race, because the circuit, the team and everything was really good. It was also really hard because in the Tour de France I felt better and better every day.

When I crashed I didn’t know that it would be as bad as this. I thought it would take only one week and then I would start back on the bike. But I stayed one month without a bike. After one month I did easy training and I started racing.

I think all my disappointment was for the Olympics. I lost a good chance. When they told me that it was really difficult to recover [soon], I was thinking only about the worlds, because there’s not many important races we have after the Olympics.

VN: What was the big problem with the crash…was it the rib injury?

OF: In the beginning I thought it was only one rib broken, but the rib went into the lung and it punctured it. So I had a pneumothorax. I spoke with many doctors and specialists and they told me that I’d be at least one month without sport, without strong efforts. So, it was more complicated then I expected.

Oscar FreireVN: You’ve won the World’s three times in the past and that equals the record. Nobody has won it four times. How big would it be if you were able to win it?

OF: I think I have a chance to be the four-time World champion. It’s a good circuit for me. I’ve been World Champion three times. Sometimes I didn’t do the World’s because I was injured before, so this is my last chance. I will race on a very good circuit for me, but perhaps I did not get the best training for this moment.

I think I have good things for me but I have also things going against me. I also have a good national team, but to complicate things, we haven’t only one leader for this race. There are maybe three or four riders in a good condition and everybody expects to have a chance for the victories. So, this is also one bad thing for the national team, maybe. It can be good but can be bad also.

VN: You nearly won the Amstel Gold race, you were very, very close to taking that. This course uses similar roads – will that help you?

OF: I think now is a different final from the Amstel, the final climb is harder. Also, in the Amstel the last climb is just before the finish line, but now we have one kilometre more. Also, maybe it is less difficult before the last climb. I think there can be bigger group than in Amstel to race.

I think also the opponents, the rivals are different, we have different riders in different part of the season. I think it’s important to be in a good shape and also you have to be in really good mentality for the race. It’s important to be fresh, not only in your body, but also in your mind.

VN: Who do you feel are the biggest rivals?

OF: I think the Belgian team is really strong, but I think at this moment there riders like Peter Sagan, Gilbert, also Gerrans, and Nibali. And there are more riders that are in a good condition. With that kind of finale, they have a lot of chances.

For sure, the winner of the race will be a very good rider, because there’s normally not many surprises at the World Championships. So, a big rider, a good rider will be the winner.

VN: How do feel about your career? You were saying that maybe this year will be your last year. When will you make the decision if you will continue or just stop?

OF: At the beginning of the season, just before the time with Katusha, I decided to do my last season. I have done many years as a professional. I think I did more than I expected when I became professional, because I knew that this work was was very difficult and also that to get victories is very hard. But after the second year I became World Champion, then I did a lot of good races, I got a lot of good results despite a lot of injuries.

I think I did my career really well, more than I expected when I became professional. I’m really happy to leave cycling like this. Okay, I do think I could have done much better if I wasn’t injured, but I feel I still did well despite that.

I’m happy with everything as a result. Also, it’s not about cycling - I think I learned a lot about life, had good experiences with other people, other riders.

For me, all my life was about cycling but now I have to think also of my family and my future. So, I’m happy with the decision because this is my fifteenth season, so I think it’s enough.

VN: So, to be clear - if you win the race, will you continue? Or will you still stop if you become World Champion again?

OF: No, I think if I become the world champion I think I will show the maillot for one year more. It’s really nice to wear the world champion’s jersey and to be the only one who is a four time world champion. I think nobody can waste an opportunity like this.

Oscar FreireVN: But that’s the only reason you continue - if you win the race?

OF: Yes, the only reason, but I think it’s difficult to win. Normally, the decision is to finish my career.

VN: So, do you know what you will do after your career? Do you have any plans yet or is it too soon?

OF: Not yet. I think I have to do many things, but I think also I need to rest a little bit. Maybe in future, I don’t know if I will do something with cycling but not at this moment. I would like to rest, to forget a little bit about cycling, because I need rest in my head, in my body and everything.

VN: Finishing up – you have been part of the Katusha team this year. What do you think about the development of Russian cycling - is the team doing a good job to advance that?

OF: For me, it’s my first year in this team. There also was a new director, new manager…everything was new, but I think they can improve a lot for the next year. I think they have really good Russian riders. Also, young riders; they have a good Spanish group. I think when we started the season they never expected to be as they are now, at this level. I think the team looks good. I hope that the future will be much better.

VN: Denis Menchov is, like you, one of the older ‘names’ in the peloton. He triumphed on the Bola del Mundo in the Vuelta . What are your thoughts on that?

OF: Well, for me it was not a surprise. I think he is a super champion, because he won the Vuelta España twice and the Giro too. So I think he is a really good rider. Sometimes when he is not really motivated, he disappears in the group, but he won at the Bola del Mundo because he is a good, class rider.


The answer could have summed up Freire too; he can be quiet for much of the year, but when he pops up, he can claim the biggest successes. He’ll try to do the same today but whether or not he succeeds, he’s has a brilliant career.

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