Referring to the level of doping in the peloton, Freire told Spanish newspaper ABC that "It's not like it was before...but there are some riders who respect the norms and others who do not. Just like in all professions."
Oscar Freire has never been one to blow his own trumpet when it comes to cycling's fight against banned drugs, but the fact remains that the former triple World Champion and Milan-San Remo winner, who retired this year, has never been linked to a doping scandal For many fans, this reinforces the Spaniard's strongly held views on the subject.
Freire believes that the sport has suffered what he calls "degradation" as a result of the doping scandals and that "People think cyclists all do the same and that's not the case. Testing is more exhaustive than it was, and things are much better."
"[But] it's impossible to claim that cycling is a clean sport because it isn't."
A professional from 1998 through to the end of the 2012 season, Freire believes - as do many others - that "It is possible to be a professional cyclist without doping, but everybody chooses their path. I followed mine without caring what others did. If other people had thought about things like me, cycling would be different."
"The problem with cycling is that many people aren't made to be cyclists and it's better that they go elsewhere rather than fill it with dirt."
Freire hinted that his racing at a consistent level showed that there was nothing suspicious about his performances, saying "I didn't win a mountain stage of the Tour and then crack on the first climb the following day. It was always very odd to see ‘average' riders who suddenly finished with the first five [of the overall classification] of the Tour's mountain stages. When riders' form varies wildly, that tends to mean a lot."
"There were some very clear cases [of doping]. And finally a lot of them tested positive. They've harmed cycling a lot, and it hurts that they've taken away wins, prestige and money from [the rest of] us."
Asked by ABC about the causes of doping, rather than doctors, Freire blamed it, to a large extent, on a very simple theory: there are riders who are over-ambitious, greedy or both, "who think it's better to take risks than to work somewhere else for very poor pay."
"Of course there are pressures, from the pubic, from teams, from the system. But you can say no. I have to say that teams have improved a lot in this area and their mentality is more positive than it used to be."
As for the tendency amongst some Spanish cyclists to defend Lance Armstrong, Freire says that "Spain is one of the places where there have been most cases [of doping], most doctors. But don't let's kid ourselves. I live next to Italy and they're the same here. What's happened is there are a lot of foreign sports stars in Spain:"
However, Freire is adamant that cycling does more testing than many other sports - "Compared to football, it doesn't seem fair to me that they test me more in a year than a football player gets tested in his entire life."
His solution to cycling's doping issues is a radical one: "Get rid of the incompetent people who do the testing. If people take drugs and don't get caught, those tests aren't worth anything. And we can't look back. We have to look towards the future."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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