Freire comes back

Together with 179 other European pros, Rabobank rider Oscar Freire has made his own start into the new racing season at the Challenge Illes Balears on Sunday, February 5. A new beginning that he hopes will be the end of his saddle sore problems, which have held the Spaniard back for most of last year. The triple World Champion could not show his rainbow jersey much last season, and was forced to renounce defending it in Madrid.

Now, Freire feels healthy again, but he still fears further setbacks. "I feel better and better," he told Spanish daily Marca. "But I'm keeping my calm and caution, because it wouldn't be the first time that I try to come back and then get another blow. The saddle sore has disappeared, but I don't want to abuse anything, because usually you pay for it."

Recalling a difficult last season, Freire is hopeful that this year will be better than last, and possibly his best. "[The worst was] the frustration of feeling good and not being able to compete because of the saddle problems," the 28 year-old said. "I felt in good shape, but every time I got onto the bike, the problems reappeared. I rode several races in pain, but finally there was no other solution than to stop. On top of that, it generated a certain tension, because the team wanted me to race - there was some pressure. And although I was the first interested in competing again, it was an uncomfortable situation, but logical. I hope that all of this will soon be forgotten and that this year will be more positive: if the problems stay away, I will be stronger than ever. I'm older now [Freire will be 29 years old on February 15 - ed] and I feel better than after the last difficulties. I think it can be a great season."

Asked what his objectives would be, Freire didn't hold back. "I'll fight for the Classics - I don't care which, because they all attract me," he said. "Then I would like to ride a good Tour, where we will try to win a stage and the green jersey, which is an option that I like. And finally, the World's: I hold three titles and I would like to be only one who won four rainbow jerseys!" In 2004, Freire joined the three-times winners' club of Alfredo Binda (1927, 1930, 1932), Rik Van Steenbergen (1949, 1956, 1957) and Eddy Merckx (1967, 1971, 1974).

Of course, the Spaniard knows that his rivals won't be easily beaten, but he is more concerned with his health. "There are very good riders like Boonen for example, who started out very strong this year," he said. "Also Petacchi, Bettini and McEwen. According to the individual race, there'll be different rivals - but what's important to me is the state of my form and my health."

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