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UPDATED: Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel set to join Katusha

2011 Amgen Tour of California, stage 5, Casey B. Gibson gallery
Freire at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge this year. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Three-time world champion Óscar Freire will race his final season as a professional with Katusha. The Spanish daily MARCA reported that Freire penned a deal with the Russian team yesterday.

Freire’s brother, who acts as his manager, said that the Spanish sprinter was in negotiations with Lotto, Quick-Step and Geox, but opted for Katusha due to the team’s guarantee that it will be at the WorldTour level next season.

Freire will share sprinter duties with rising talent Denis Galimzyanov, who won Paris-Brussels and the final stage at the Tour of Beijing.

Freire will be racing his 15th pro season and wants to finish off his career with one more shot at the Olympic Games and the world title, with courses that are well-suited for his style at London and Valkenburg, respectively.

Freire will join a growing Spanish contingent at the Russian-backed team that includes Joaquin Rodriguez, Dani Moreno, Joan Horrach, Alberto Losada as well as Xavier Florencio and Angel Vicioso, who will also join for 2012.

Zabel goes to Katusha, too

Meanwhile, former Tour de France sprint king Erik Zabel is set to become the new advisor to the fast men of Katusha, the Russian team’snew manager, Hans-Michael Holczer, said Thursday.

Zabel, 41, is a six-time winner of the sprinters’ green jersey at the Tour de France and in recent years been mentoring Britain’s Mark Cavendish at the HTC-Highroad team.

With HTC folding at the end of the season and Cavendish having signed for Team Sky as of 2012, Zabel will now give expert advice to the likes of Galimzyanov and Freire.

“Erik will start with us this winter, he will have the same role with our team,” said Holczer, the former manager of German team Gerolsteiner.

In an illustrious career which ended on a sour note — after he admitted to once using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) — Zabel won Milan-San Remo four times, Paris-Tours three times and 12 stages in the Tour de France.

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