Oscar Freire has never started racing as early as in mid-January since he turned pro with Vitalicio Seguros back in 1998, but despite less than idea condition, the three-time world champion is already testing himself in the sprints at the Santos Tour Down Under.
"I need a few days before I find the speed for sprinting", he suspected at the start of stage 1 in Prospect. But no later than stage 2, he finished sixth in Stirling.
"It was a good stage finish for me", he mentioned to Cyclingnews. "But I'm not in good shape. I haven't trained much. I only rode during the team training camp in Italy in December, then I went back home and there were the Christmas celebrations. The first efforts in competition are always difficult and when I got here in Australia, I caught a bit of a flu. I wasn't feeling well but that's passed. All I have in mind is to get into form at Tirreno-Adriatico."
Talking about the finale of stage 2, he explained: "I had followed the right wheel, the one of Michael [Matthews, who placed second behind solo winner Will Clarke] but I got blocked and was forced to stop my effort. I wasn't able to win the sprint but that was for second place, so I don't have big regrets. I wanted to test myself. I didn't feel too bad but I also didn't feel good. Had I trained more before this race, I would have been motivated by the Willunga Hill stage on Saturday, but I'm not."
The triple world champion (1999, 2001, 2004) is making his debut with the last team of his career after spending nine years with Rabobank, the team he joined after the dismissal of Mapei in 2002. "I don't feel any pressure at Katusha", the Spaniard said. "I already knew everyone from this team. The strange feeling is at the feed zone. In the past, I quickly recognized the staff of Rabobank from far out, now I have to look for those of Katusha."
Freire's points have been instrumental in Katusha's qualification for the 2012 World Tour. "But they haven't signed me for my points", he noted. "They have signed me because I'm Oscar Freire and I can still win races. This is definitely the last season of my career. I want to win Milan-San Remo one more time [he already bagged three of them], I'll target the other classics, the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and the World Championship."