Freire a dark horse for Worlds

While the Spanish sports media have been largely focusing on the Vuelta a España these past three weeks, another Spanish rider fine-tuned his form ahead of the World Championships in Northern Europe, at the Paris-Brussels and GP Fourmies races. Besides Vuelta winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), his runner-up Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and third-placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), triple world champion Oscar Freire could also be one of the favourite candidates of national coach José Luis de Santos when he will choose his line-up for the upcoming Worlds in Valkenburg, Netherlands.

Freire performed well recently by finishing third behind Tom Boonen in Paris-Brussels, and going on a 180km-breakaway on the roads of the GP Fourmies the very next day - clearly showing his intentions of shaping up to the big event in two weeks. Even though he failed to score a win, his confidence is still on a high.

"Of course, it's always better to win, but I reassured myself. I'm on time," Freire told L'Equipe on Sunday evening, after almost having held off the chasing peloton to the finish line. The Katusha rider and his breakaway companion, Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), were caught just after the last kilometer banner, where the third man of the escape and race winner, Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto Belisol) made his decisive move.

Spain has a contingent of nine riders for the Worlds road race taking place on September 23, and with so many in-form Classics specialists like the above mentioned Valverde, Rodriguez and Freire on the team, its director De Santos will have a hard time establishing a hierarchy. "But it's good to have several candidates for the Worlds," Freire said. "What is certain is that we will know how to arrange things to support one of our riders."

The 36-year-old of course eyes a fourth Worlds title after those scored in 1999, 2001 and 2004, which would be record-breaking. At this year's Amstel Gold Race, which also involves the Cauberg in Valkenburg, Freire finished fourth, just behind Peter Sagan (Liquigas) who took third place. Already at the time, the Spaniard said that the race had been like a Worlds test event for him. "And it went well for me that day," he now reiterated, unable to hide his ambitions.

Spanish team coach De Santos is expected to announce his definite line-up for the Worlds in the coming days.

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