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Gallery: Freire career retrospective

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Spain's Oscar Freire was the surprise winner of the 1999 road world championship.

Spain's Oscar Freire was the surprise winner of the 1999 road world championship. (Image credit: AFP)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire was always making friends at the Tour Down Under

Freire was always making friends at the Tour Down Under (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire's first race for Katusha at the 2012 Tour Down Under

Freire's first race for Katusha at the 2012 Tour Down Under (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Winning a stage of the Tour de Suisse in 2006

Winning a stage of the Tour de Suisse in 2006 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Verona 2004 was Freire's and Spain's last win in the Worlds road race

Verona 2004 was Freire's and Spain's last win in the Worlds road race (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire won his third world title in Verona in 2004. He won the title in the same city in 1999

Freire won his third world title in Verona in 2004. He won the title in the same city in 1999 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire sprints to his third world title in 2004. The win saw him equal the number of world titles by a single rider.

Oscar Freire sprints to his third world title in 2004. The win saw him equal the number of world titles by a single rider. (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire was more that just a sprinter, seen here in the 2004 Tour of Flanders. The jersey he wore represents the lead in the former UCI World Cup

Freire was more that just a sprinter, seen here in the 2004 Tour of Flanders. The jersey he wore represents the lead in the former UCI World Cup (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire was on fire in 2007 winning four races before Milan-San Remo. He took that form into the first Classic of the season, beating Allan Davis and Tom Boonen in the sprint

Freire was on fire in 2007 winning four races before Milan-San Remo. He took that form into the first Classic of the season, beating Allan Davis and Tom Boonen in the sprint (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Before crashing out of his final Tour de France in 2012

Before crashing out of his final Tour de France in 2012 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Signing off in his last Worlds in 2012

Signing off in his last Worlds in 2012 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Jan Ullrich (Telekom) and newly crowned world champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) on the start line of the 1999 Tour of Lombardy.

Jan Ullrich (Telekom) and newly crowned world champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) on the start line of the 1999 Tour of Lombardy. (Image credit: AFP)
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World champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) shows off the rainbow jersey during the 1999 Tour of Lombardy.

World champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) shows off the rainbow jersey during the 1999 Tour of Lombardy. (Image credit: AFP)
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World Cup leader Andre Tchmil, left, shakes hands with newly crowned world champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) on the start line of the 1999 Tour of Lombardy.

World Cup leader Andre Tchmil, left, shakes hands with newly crowned world champion Oscar Freire (Vitalicio Seguros) on the start line of the 1999 Tour of Lombardy. (Image credit: AFP)
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Oscar Freire (Spain) on Jan Ullrich's wheel during the 1999 world championship road race in Verona, Italy.

Oscar Freire (Spain) on Jan Ullrich's wheel during the 1999 world championship road race in Verona, Italy. (Image credit: AFP)
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1999 Elite men's road Worlds podium (L-R): Markus Zberg (Switzerland), 2nd; Oscar Freire (Spain), 1st; Jean-Cyril Robin (France), 3rd

1999 Elite men's road Worlds podium (L-R): Markus Zberg (Switzerland), 2nd; Oscar Freire (Spain), 1st; Jean-Cyril Robin (France), 3rd (Image credit: AFP)
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After winning the 1999 world championship, Oscar Freire signed with Mapei for 2000. The Spaniard is resplendent in his rainbow jersey kit during the 2000 edition of Amstel Gold.

After winning the 1999 world championship, Oscar Freire signed with Mapei for 2000. The Spaniard is resplendent in his rainbow jersey kit during the 2000 edition of Amstel Gold. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Oscar Freire (Mapei) won his second world title in 2001 and concluded the season at the Giro di Lombardia in the rainbow jersey.

Oscar Freire (Mapei) won his second world title in 2001 and concluded the season at the Giro di Lombardia in the rainbow jersey. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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It wasn't always rosy: Freire seen here being caught up in a crash at the Tour de Suisse in 2010

It wasn't always rosy: Freire seen here being caught up in a crash at the Tour de Suisse in 2010 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire won Milan-San Remo three times during his career.

Freire won Milan-San Remo three times during his career. (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire spent nine years at Rabobank becoming their most experienced and successful one day rider

Freire spent nine years at Rabobank becoming their most experienced and successful one day rider (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Posing with Italy's one-day specialist Michele Bartoli and Mapei team boss Giorgio Squinzi

Posing with Italy's one-day specialist Michele Bartoli and Mapei team boss Giorgio Squinzi (Image credit: Sirotti)
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With his third world title in five years, Freire joined an elite club of now only four riders who have won three World Road Championships: Alfredo Binda (1927-30-32), Rik Van Steenbergen (1949-56-57) and Eddy Merckx (1967-71-74)

With his third world title in five years, Freire joined an elite club of now only four riders who have won three World Road Championships: Alfredo Binda (1927-30-32), Rik Van Steenbergen (1949-56-57) and Eddy Merckx (1967-71-74) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire won his first Milan-San Remo in 2004 when Erik Zabel raised his arms too early

Freire won his first Milan-San Remo in 2004 when Erik Zabel raised his arms too early (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire winning a Tour de France stage in 2006 in Caen. He won again a few days later in Dax

Freire winning a Tour de France stage in 2006 in Caen. He won again a few days later in Dax (Image credit: Sirotti)
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2007: Freire wins his second Milan-San Remo title

2007: Freire wins his second Milan-San Remo title (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Gent-Wevelgem in 2008 was one of Freire's most impressive wins

Gent-Wevelgem in 2008 was one of Freire's most impressive wins (Image credit: Sirotti)
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After the Worlds road race in 2012. Possibly Freire's final race as a pro rider

After the Worlds road race in 2012. Possibly Freire's final race as a pro rider (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire didn't always wait for the sprint. Here he's on the attack during Amstel Gold in 2009

Freire didn't always wait for the sprint. Here he's on the attack during Amstel Gold in 2009 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Bettini and Rebellin push the break as Freire follows the wheel in a crack break in the 2003 Milan-San Remo

Bettini and Rebellin push the break as Freire follows the wheel in a crack break in the 2003 Milan-San Remo (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Three not out: The Spaniard was an expert at hiding in the pack and then sprinting to San Remo glory

Three not out: The Spaniard was an expert at hiding in the pack and then sprinting to San Remo glory (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Having missed out on the win in Milan-San Remo in 2008 Freire came back to win Gent-Wevelgem

Having missed out on the win in Milan-San Remo in 2008 Freire came back to win Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Winning a stage in the Tour de France in 2008. The same year he clinched the green jersey

Winning a stage in the Tour de France in 2008. The same year he clinched the green jersey (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Freire fights to stay with an explosive attack from Carlos Barredo in the 2004 Tour of Flanders

Freire fights to stay with an explosive attack from Carlos Barredo in the 2004 Tour of Flanders (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Always a solid team helper too: Freire at the Tour de France

Always a solid team helper too: Freire at the Tour de France (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Slugging it out with Thor Hushovd in the Tour stage to Barcelona in 2009. The Norwegian would take the stage and go on to take green in Paris

Slugging it out with Thor Hushovd in the Tour stage to Barcelona in 2009. The Norwegian would take the stage and go on to take green in Paris (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Bettini can't believe it but Freire takes his second world title in Lisbon in 2001

Bettini can't believe it but Freire takes his second world title in Lisbon in 2001 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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A familiar face in the last decade: Freire winning, this time at the Tour of Romandie in 2009

A familiar face in the last decade: Freire winning, this time at the Tour of Romandie in 2009 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire's first major result was a silver medal in the 1997 U23 road Worlds behind winner Kurt Asle Arvesen (Norway).

Oscar Freire's first major result was a silver medal in the 1997 U23 road Worlds behind winner Kurt Asle Arvesen (Norway). (Image credit: AFP)

While many cycling aficionados would have relished an Oscar Freire world championship victory on Sunday in Valkenburg, The Netherlands, a victory which would have set a new record for pro road titles (at 4) and likely spurred the Spaniard on for one more season of racing in the professional peloton, it was not to be as Freire concluded his 15-year professional career with a 10th place finish.

It was fitting, nonetheless, that Freire's curtain call would take place at the world championships. In Freire's first year as a professional he quietly notched a 17th place finish the last time Valkenburg hosted the world championships and the next year's Worlds in Verona, Italy, likely saved the Spaniard's career from oblivion.

Freire was nearing the end of a two-year contract with Spanish team Vitalicio Seguros and on the start line of the world championships he had not yet found a team for 2000. Beset by injuries, Freire only raced 11 times in 1999 and was a late addition to the Spanish Worlds squad. Soon to be famous for generating remarkable fitness in short periods of time, Freire trained for six weeks prior to Worlds, either alone or behind a scooter, on a circuit near his home in Torrelvega, Spain, resembling the Verona parcours.

Rounding the final turn at Worlds, Freire would catch his eight breakaway companions by surprise, including such luminaries in the pro peloton as Jan Ullrich, Frank Vandenbroucke, Francesco Casagrande and 1998 world champion Oscar Camenzind, and rode alone over the final 400 meters to be crowned an unlikely world champion.

While Freire would win two more world titles, in 2001 and 2004, and flirt with adding an unprecedented fourth world championship throughout the rest of his career, he told Cyclingnews prior to this year's world championships, "I’ll be remembered for the Worlds but that’s not the only victory I have in my palmares."

Indeed.

Freire was the atypical Spaniard who made his mark in Europe's one-day races, parlaying his toughness, tactical nous and fast finishing kick into victories at Milan-San Remo (2004, 2007, 2010), Gent-Wevelgem (2008), Paris-Tours (2010), Brabantse Pijl (2005, 2006, 2007) and Vattenfall Cyclassics (2006).

In Grand Tours Freire won four stages at the Tour de France as well as the points classification (2008). In his native Spain he claimed seven Vuelta a España stage wins plus wore the leader's jersey early in the 2007 edition.

Freire won stages at Tirreno-Adriatico (plus the overall in 2005), Vuelta a Andalucía (plus the overall in 2007), Vuelta al País Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Tour Down Under and the Tour de Suisse (where in stage 7 at the 2006 edition he famously bunny-hopped a median to drop his breakaway companions in the finale and win the stage).

In a career fraught with injury Freire managed to win at least one race in each of the 15 years he raced as a professional. Following two season on Spain's Vitalicio Seguros squad Freire would never race for a Spanish team again, spending three years at Mapei (2000-2002), the bulk of his career at Rabobank (2003-2011) and concluding his presence in the pro peloton with Team Katusha (2012).

While composed and collected on the bike while racing, Freire would at times be famously absent-minded, such as the time he forgot one of his shoes in the team hotel prior to the 2010 Milan-San Remo (which he won), or a similar instance during the 2008 Tour when he left his shoes in the hotel before stage 10, borrowed a teammate's shoes for the start of the stage and swapped back into his own shoes later on after he had already joined the day's early escape. In an instance of the bizarre, Freire, along with New Zealand's Julian Dean, were riders who were shot by an air rifle during the 13th stage of the 2009 Tour.

While threatening to retire at the end of the 2011 season, the 36-year-old Spaniard could still have much to be proud of in 2012, his final year in the pro peloton. He opened his season with a stage win in the first WorldTour event of the year, Australia's Tour Down Under, and a month later won a stage at the Vuelta a Andalucía (which would prove to be his final professional victory).

Through the spring he notched a second place in stage 2 at Tirreno-Adriatoco, 7th at Milan-San Remo, 2nd at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke, 4th at Gent-Wevelgem, 12th at Ronde van Vlaanderen, 2nd at Brabantse Pijl followed by 4th at the Amstel Gold Race.

Freire's final Tour de France proved disastrous, as the Spaniard was forced to withdraw after falling victim to the huge crash on stage six. Freire, however, still managed to finish the stage despite having suffered a punctured lung and a broken rib.

The injury forced Freire to miss the Olympics, but he returned to racing in late August at the Tour of Denmark and several weeks later signaled he was still a force to be reckoned with after finishing third behind Tom Boonen and Mark Renshaw at Paris-Brussels.

Fifteen days later, the ever humble Freire would end his career at the world championships.

"I will not spend much time away from home so that I can enjoy time with my family," said Freire. "I won’t be competing anymore but cycling will always be part of my life. I’m sure I’ll still go to races but only to watch them. Who knows, I might be involved in cycling again in three or four years but now I need a break and not have to think about anything."

For a photo retrospective of Freire's career, click on the gallery.