An interview with Oscar Freire, November 15, 2004
Oscar Freire made his own hat-trick after winning his third world road championship in Verona last October, joining the exclusive 'three-times club' along with Belgium's Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Steenbergen and Italy's Alfredo Binda. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez Macias caught up with "El Induráin del Mundial" (Induráin of the World's) just before he was named honorary mayor of his home town of Torrelavega, Spain last Friday.
Despite the media bestowing on him names such as "Mr. Weltmeister" (Mr. World Champion) and "El Induráin del Mundial", right now, Oscar Freire doesn't want to think about a fourth conquest.
With three rainbow jerseys in the bag, the easy-going Cantabrian wants to enjoy and taste the flavour such a sweet victory brings. However the challenge is there in 2005 and what's more, it will be in his own country, Madrid the centre of attention for the next year's World Road Championships.
"He always wants to break the race and end in first place ... I believe he is one of the toughest rivals that I have" - Freire speaking about his arch-rival in the Classics, Italian Paolo Bettini
As well as the Milan-San Remo World Cup and a Vuelta stage victory among his achievements this year, Freire will continue to ride with the team that has brought him this success for at least two more years. We spoke with him while he was resting in his home town of Torrelavega, situated in the Cantabria region of northern Spain.
Cyclingnews: Which are your memories of your triumph in Verona last month?
Oscar Freire: I remember everything. Luckily, Verona is difficult to forget for me. Not only for my first World's victory there, but also for the third time I won. I remember this third time I enjoyed everything more because the first time I succeeded, everything was a surprise for me. I could enjoy a lot in this recent victory.
CN: This last title was the most special for you?
OF: No, the most special title was the first one because I didn't expect to get it. The third win was very nice because a World's in Verona is different than a World's in Lisbon. I say this for two reasons: because my first win was in Verona and this year we rode practically the same circuit as in 1999; the second reason is that Italian fans really know a lot about cycling compared with Portugese fans.
CN: It seems the world championships is a race that fits you perfectly, right?
OF: Yes. I always felt good riding on circuits where there is a little uphill, but not long enough to become a long climb. I was second in the Under-23 World Championship and from that moment on, I performed very well in those competitions.
CN: Which was the most difficult race from the three World crowns?
OF: I think it was the second one because I think it was the time I was in worst shape of the three. In Lisbon I didn't feel at my best, I wasn't good. However, I was lucky to do the perfect race considering the condition I was in at the time.
CN: José Carlos Carabias is a famous Spanish journalist who writes on Spain's ABC newspaper. When you won in Verona he called you were "El Induráin del Mundial" [Induráin of the World's]. What do you think?
OF: [Laughs] I don't know. I think the World's fitted me very well. It's obvious these are different competitions [the Tour de France and the World Championships]; he [Indurain] was [the king] in the Tour de France and I was [the king] apparently in the World's so far. I think we are completely different riders with each other.
CN: How important is Spain's national coach Paco Antequera in the recent World titles?
OF: Very important, because he always trusted in me and the first year that I went to the World's, nobody trusted me. He took his chances on me, he took me to the World's when I was able to get my first title. From that moment on, he always made a national team at my service. It has always been a very united team as seen in all the championships.
CN: Can you imagine yourself winning your fourth World Championship?
OF: Well, I'm still enjoying my third one. Everyone asks me about the fourth one, but now it's time to enjoy and taste the third.
CN: What was it like taking a stage win in this year's Vuelta a España?
OF: I was preparing for doing a good World's and for being in shape. It's obvious the Vuelta is España is very important for Spaniards. I got a stage win there, so I not only won the World Championships, but I won Milan-San Remo, and many races at the beginning of the season.
CN: In your opinion, was Davide Rebellin's year surprising?
OF: It didn't surprise me because he is a rider who has always had very good seasons. The point is that he reached the top three, the top four on many occasions and this year he achieved two first places in the World Cup classics. That's why I think the season has changed for him.
CN: You ended third on the World Cup overall classification; how do you see yourself faring next year?
OF: I don't know if the World Cup will be ridden next year, but I'm improving myself every year and I hope I finish first and not the third on the podium next year.
CN: What is a normal winter day in your life?
OF: This winter is different from the former winter. I can hardly stay relaxed this winter because I have ceremonies and parties all day long [interviews too!-Ed]. So, it is hard to have quiet, privacy. But, I always say this happens because of good news. I guess I'll spend the winter as every cyclist, doing things I can not normally do during the rest of the year.
CN: And during the day, do you train in the morning, or in the afternoon?
OF: Now, I do nothing at all. Now, no training. I have to rest.
CN: When do you begin your pre-season?
OF: I normally start training regularly on the bicycle from Christmas Day. I will go to the gym early on in December to do some exercises, to do some sport. But I actually don't think I'll ride the bike until December 23 or 24.
CN: Why is Paolo Bettini the strongest rider in the classics? Is consistency the difference between him and you?
OF: I think he is a rider with the same characteristics that I have, but he is rider who fights more than me. I am more conservative compared with him. I wait for a bunch sprint more. He does the opposite. He never wants to finish in a bunch sprint; he always wants to break the race and end the race in first place. I think he is a very tough rider and I believe he is one of the toughest rivals that I have, if not the toughest.
CN: We talked to each other last February and we spoke about your professional goals this year. By winning in San Remo and Verona, you achieved most of your 2004 goals?
OF: Yes, no doubt about it. It was a shame that I didn't perform well in the Olympics because I fell off the bike, but I got two goals from the three very specific ones that I had. For me this is an outstanding season... actually, I had four goals with the World Cup, so I obtained two.
CN: Which are your plans for 2005? Does anything change in relation with the current season?
OF: No, the calendar will be practically the same. The only thing is that this year I couldn't go to the Tour de France and I will probably go next year.
CN: Why did you decide to specialize yourself in bunch sprints and classics?
OF: When one becomes a professional rider, one tries to focus on things he can do best. Most of the races end in a bunch sprint, and after trying race after race, I gained that self-confidence in myself. Above all, [I gained] the confidence to get myself in position for the sprints without having problems.
CN: We know that you won a race in Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles recently. What was that experience like, riding in a country unlike much of Europe?
OF: It was like a kind of criterium race where there was not a good level like a race in Europe. It was easier to get the win. It was the first time that I went to the Caribbean and I came away with a good memory from there.
CN: You didn't need to train much, right? Your brother Antonio told me the race was not demanding and that you had some holidays there. Is that true?
OF: Yes, it was a race where I could have some holidays after it. My mates and I stayed there, enjoying the good weather.