By Hedwig Kröner in Varese, Italy
The Spanish team, although rated as the second-strongest squad after the Italians, did not earn any medals in the elite men's UCI World Championship road race on Sunday, with its best-placed finisher being Joaquin Rodriguez in ninth position. Top man Oscar Freire was far from being satisfied as he came in almost five minutes down, within the big favourites' group including Paolo Bettini, Tom Boonen, Stefan Schumacher and Sylvain Chavanel.
The three-time World Champion said that the Italian strategy had worked out, while the Spanish team "rode a very bad race. Italy rode a good race. But we... we were not at top level. It was important to us to not initiate breaks, but if a break went, we had to be in it. [Alejandro] Valverde should have been in that group with [Davide] Rebellin, [Alessandro] Ballan and [Damiano] Cunego. But he wasn't, and with three Italians, the escape was validated behind."
The final move including the three Italians went clear on the penultimate climb shortly after the bell rang for the last lap. The sprinters' group was then some 30 seconds behind, and it soon became clear that interests within that bunch were not in Freire's favour. The riders sat up.
"Valverde should have been in front. I don't know what happened to him. Cunego, Rebellin and Ballan should not have been left to jump without him. Then, behind, nobody was pulling anymore," said Freire, whose only teammate left with him at that point was Valverde.
Samuel Sanchez, for example, finished 22nd, between the winner's group and the sprinter's bunch. "Behind, nobody was with us. It was only Valverde and me. The Belgian team had riders in front... so I think we did a very bad race."
As to Rodriguez, who was in front with the Italians and finished sixth, Freire said, "Yes, but he wasn't as fast as Valverde."
The Rabobank rider had to settle for a disappointing result. "I felt good, but sometimes races are like this, just very tactical. Today was like that. Italy was simply the best team."