Rabobank's Oscar Freire was one ten riders to abandon the Vuelta a España on Saturday, in a second successive day of attrition in the mountains. Despite Rabobank's initial surprise at Freire's early exit, team Press Officer Luuc Eisenga told Cyclingnews on Sunday that exhaustion was the reason for the Spaniard's decision, which came just two weeks before the World Championship road race.
"[Freire] was not feeling well. He was dropped from the grupetto twice, so he decided to call it quits," said Eisenga on Sunday morning.
On Saturday afternoon, Rabobank Team Manager Erik Breukink had expressed his surprise at Freire's decision. "The withdrawal of Oscar surprised us a little bit," said Breukink on the Rabobank website. "We are not happy. I need to talk to Oscar and find out what is going on. In any case, it wasn't planned."
However, Breukink did acknowledge that his riders had faced several tough days in Spain's southern mountains. Freire's abandon occurred during the second of three stages at altitude.
Freire was not the only sprinter to call an early end to his race on the stage to Sierra Nevada; Quick Step's Tom Boonen also retired on the 13th stage. Freire and Boonen's departures followed that of fellow sprinter Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) on the second rest day of the race.
Asked whether the exodus of sprint rivals had played any factor in Freire's decision, Eisenga explained that, for a sprinter, the decision to stay-or-go was a double-edged sword.
"There are some tough stages ahead," said Eisenga. "For sure, [as a sprinter,] if you stay in the race, the chances of a win are greater. On the other hand, you don’t want to jeopardise your chances at the Worlds."
Freire, who will retire at the end of next season, has made no secret of the fact that this month's World Championships are a major goal. If successful in Mendrisio, he would become the first rider in history to claim four World road titles. Eisenga said that 33-year-old will now head to Switzerland determined to secure the second of his two major objectives.
"[The Worlds has] been one of his two main goals of this season. His first was Milan-San Remo, which, after his crash at the Tour of California, he was very disappointed to miss out on."
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