By Hedwig Kröner
Triple World Champion Oscar Freire has been through some ups and downs in his career, which started out in 1998. His second victory as a pro was the World Championships in Verona, Italy, in 1999, and ever since the prestigious win, the Spaniard's health has been plagued by many different problems: knee, back, saddle area, neck - it seems not many parts of his body have been spared by pain during these years. Yet, when he was in shape, the 31 year-old never failed to score.
"He's a man for moments," said Rabobank team manager Erik Breukink about Freire after his second victory in Milan-San Remo this past Saturday. "You can feel it in advance, that Oscar would have a good day - that was such a day."
Breukink, who's in charge of Freire since the Spaniard joined the Dutch team in 2003, never doubted the rider's way to treat his illnesses, even though there have been plenty. "They say that he's nonchalant, but Oscar lives for his sport," the team manager told ANP. "He treats his body well; you can see it when after he's again been out for a while."
That was the case during much of last season, as Freire was facing severe spinal pains in his neck and did not know to which expert physician to turn anymore. Then, by the end of last year, he decided to stop any treatment and just rest - and the pain miraculously improved.
Now, the triple World Champ is back to his best, as he proved on Saturday when he beat Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) by more than a bike length on the Via Roma in San Remo. In seven participations in the race, he never placed under the Top 7... "It's a race that suits him well," explained Breukink. "He can ride in the front group well, and always manages his strength perfectly."
This weekend, Freire wasn't nervous, even when Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) attacked on the final climb, the famous Poggio. "I didn't find it hard to stay put; I trusted my sprint completely," Freire said post-race. And when it came down to the fast men in the last kilometres, the Spaniard knew exactly which back wheel to take - the one of Alessandro Petacchi (Milram). "He had a nice little train in front of him with three teammates," Freire continued. "I knew exactly where I had to be - nobody would have been able to get me away from there."
He dedicated his victory to his uncle Antonio. "He's in hospital right now," Freire said. "He gave me my very first bike, when I was nine years old."
In the future, the Rabobank star hopes for many more victorious moments in a career that he would like to continue for at least two more years. "The World Championships is the most beautiful competition of the year," he said on Saturday. "This year, I want to win in Stuttgart and after that, in Varese and Mendrisio, as they will be special to me. Both locations are close to my home in Switzerland. So I'll surely continue racing for another two years!" Let's hope the Spaniard's physical problems will leave him alone for a while.