In the second of his exclusive analysis of the Classics for Cyclingnews, former three-time World Champion Oscar Freire explains why he thinks the Tour of Flanders is the most attractive race of the entire cycling calendar.
CN: How often did you race Flanders? Was it tricky to ride in Mapei [his second professional team] when you had a lot of Belgian riders who made it their top priority of the season?
I remember that once I was going really well, maybe in 2002, I was in very good shape for Flanders and I crashed out. But anyway, it was difficult [with Mapei] to get a spot in the Flanders line-up because I was more their rider for Milan-San Remo and they had other, much better riders for Flanders and Roubaix. I think Flanders was a race that suited me, but I lacked experience of racing it and a bit of luck, like in 2002. And apart from being in good condition, luck and experience are exactly the two ingredients you need the most to succeed there, and it’s up to you to get that experience and make that luck happen.
CN: From the moment you walk down to the start in Bruges, Flanders has an exceptional atmosphere.
CN: So do you have any particular favourites?
CN: Everybody emphasises the importance of getting a good position in Flanders. Do you agree? Does anything else on the technical side stand out that makes it a special race for the riders?
OF: It’s hard to say. The last time I raced, I did well and I made sure I was always in the top 10 or 15. However, there were times when everybody from the top ten backwards fell off and you realise that even though on paper it’s better to go in in first place than second when you go into the climbs, and better in second place than third, at some points it really doesn’t matter. You’re still going to crash...Ideally, you have to be in the top three every time you start a climb, because maybe from tenth rider back if a break goes it’s impossible to get back into contact.
Photo: Tim De Waele
CN: So the key to success in Flanders, rather than feeling exceptionally strong, is maybe to know how best to conserve the strength you have?
CN: So you need a good sports director as well who knows the route?
CN: After Flanders you then tended to skip Roubaix but go on to the Ardennes Classics. Did racing Flanders have a negative effect on how you raced in those hilly Classics?