Events

Elite men’s RR: Why Freire won

Another world's road race is over. And, for the third year running, the blue-ribbon event came down to whom was fastest in the final straightaway. Two years ago, in Verona, Italy, a dozen riders were still together when "unknown" Spanish rider Oscar Freire sprinted out of the last turn to win by four seconds. In 2000, at Plouay, France, there were two dozen that fought out the finish, with Latvian Romans Vainsteins taking the sprint and Freire in third. Now, in Lisbon, Portugal, almost four dozen riders were still together to contest the finish -- an unimaginable outcome for a race that had

By John Wilcockson

Photo: Graham Watson

Another world’s road race is over. And, for the third year running, the blue-ribbon event came down to whom was fastest in the final straightaway. Two years ago, in Verona, Italy, a dozen riders were still together when “unknown” Spanish rider Oscar Freire sprinted out of the last turn to win by four seconds. In 2000, at Plouay, France, there were two dozen that fought out the finish, with Latvian Romans Vainsteins taking the sprint and Freire in third. Now, in Lisbon, Portugal, almost four dozen riders were still together to contest the finish — an unimaginable outcome for a race that had 13,000 feet of climbing in its 254.1km — and once again, Freire, much better known than in 1999, was the rider who prevailed to take the rainbow jersey.

You could say that the 25-year-old Freire is fortunate to take two golds and a bronze from his three world championship rides. But his success is a reflection of how far Spanish cycling has come in recent years — and how important it is that its top riders have the Vuelta a España in September (instead of May) to find their best condition.

Freire didn’t win a stage of the Vuelta this year, the closest he got being a second place to Erik Zabel in the tight finish at Gijón on stage 4. He said he thought of that finish when he was making his sprint on Sunday. Back in September, he tried to get through a narrowing gap as Zabel moved toward the barriers. The Spanish rider didn’t make the same mistake this time. Freire followed Zabel, who was following a lead-out by Dutchman Erik Dekker, while the upstart Slovenian Andrej Hauptman, 26, was also challenging. Assessing the situation, Freire saw that, as Zabel moved to his left, a gap was opening up on his right, along the barriers. And with a pounce more typical of Zabel, the lithe Spaniard shot through the gap, while the German sat up, realizing he was beaten.

At the same time, Italy’s Paolo Bettini, winner in a sprint this year of the Championship of Zürich World Cup race — and a teammate of Freire’s on the Mapei trade team — was hurtling up on Dekker’s left. “With just a few meters to go, I thought I was going to win the world championship,” said Dekker, “and the next second there were three guys in front of me.” The fastest of those guys was Freire, who crossed the line a length ahead of Bettini, with Hauptman taking third. Dekker was fourth and Zabel only fifth.

The explanation for Freire’s success and Zabel’s defeat was twofold. First, Zabel has been racing (and winning more than 20 times) all season long, from February to October. He was mentally tired. Freire may have been plagued all year with back injuries and then a viral infection. So he raced only 31 times — and won only twice: stages of the Tours of Germany and Burgos — so he was mentally fresh when he decided to make the world’s a goal. “It was only in the Vuelta that I decided I was in good enough condition to go for the world title again.” said Freire, who pulled out of the Vuelta with a week to go to get himself ready for the big day.

The second factor in the sprint’s outcome was that Zabel’s German team was keyed all day into helping Jan Ullrich. The German effort saw Jörg Jaksche cross to the race’s first real break — with Italy’s Daniele Nardello and Ivan Basso, Spain’s Aitor Osa and France’s Florent Brard — which took off in the 14th of 21 laps. They were caught two laps later. When Italy’s Danilo Di Luca and Spain’s Angel Vicioso then made a dangerous break on lap 17, and were joined by an energetic Bettini the following lap, it was the Germans that closed the 40-second gap.

In particular, Rolf Aldag made a huge pull on the first climb of lap 19 before puling out, and the Matthias Kessler dragged the pack up the second climb, to open up a chance for Ullrich to attack. Ullrich’s move was impressive but the two who joined him — Jean-Cyril Robin of France and Giuliano Figueras of Italy — weren’t willing to help the Kaiser. In between these moves, Zabel had a rear flat and had to chase up between the team cars on his own to get back.

Ullrich would make two more attacks on the final lap, first marked by Figueras, then Richard Virenque of France, just before Italy’s Gilberto Simoni jumped clear on the final climb. Over the plateau summit of that climb, Ullrich again tried to go away, but Simoni remained some seven seconds in front.

All this action by the Germans, and their efforts to close down earlier attacks, meant that Zabel had just Ullrich to lead him through the fast-moving line of 45 riders in the final 2km. In contrast, Freire still had three teammates to help in the finale, while four other Spaniards had been present on that last, viciously fast lap. It was the fastest of the day: 12.1km in 15:54, a speed of 45.660 kph — no wonder none of those breaks worked out.

The Italians raced smarter this year, but not smart enough. Typical was an attack by Paolo Lanfranchi on the final descent, which he only stopped when his teammates started shouting at him that Simoni was ahead. “He apologized,” said Bettini, “but it didn’t make any difference to the race, as Simoni would have been caught anyway with 60 riders chasing him.”

Maybe so; but if the team had played all the cards it had in a more disciplined fashion then a break would surely have thrived. Bettini observed that it ended in a sprint because riders had tired themselves out with efforts in the early parts of the race. America’s Levi Leipheimer had an opposite take, saying that although there were some hard laps, they weren’t hard enough to shake of the fast finishers like Freire and Zabel.

As for the Americans, Leipheimer’s teammate Chann McRae arrived with the leaders for the third world’s running — fifth at Verona, eighth at Plouay, and now 25th at Lisbon. It might have been better, because when Simoni was caught on the final descent, McRae went on the counterattack. “I was following Dekker and Andrei Tchmil and figured they wouldn’t wait for the sprint,” McRae said. “I thought we had a really good chance … if luck’s on our side we’ll take it.”

But it wasn’t. Once again, the luck was with Freire.

Photo Gallery

Results

1. FREIRE GOMEZ,Oscar (Sp), 6:07:21;
2. BETTINI,Paolo (I);
3. HAUPTMAN,Andrej (Slo);
4. DEKKER,Erik (Nl);
5. ZABEL,Erik (G);
6. WADECKI,Piotr (Pol);
7. FIGUERAS,Giuliano (I);
8. MIKHAILOV,Guennadi (Rus);
9. KONECNY,Tomas (Cz);
10. ZBERG,Beat (Swi);
11. BARTOLI,Michele (I);
12. LANFRANCHI,Paolo (I);
13. ULLRICH,Jan (G);
14. ZAKIROV,Faat (Rus);
15. WOJTAS,Arkadiusz (Pol);
16. PIATEK,Zbigniew (Pol);
17. BRUYLANDTS,Dave (B);
18. AXELSSON,Niklas (Swe);
19. BOTCHAROV,Alexandre (Rus);
20. AEBERSOLD,Niki (Swi);
21. BONDARENKO,Denis (Rus);
22. AERTS,Mario (B);
23. VICIOSO ARCOS,Angel (Sp);
24. SOUSA BARBOSA,Rui Miguel (Por);
25. MCRAE,Chann (USA);
26. EVANS,Cadel (Aus);
27. VALJAVEC,Tadej (Slo);
28. LEIPHEIMER,Levy (USA);
29. BOTERO ECHEVERRY,Santiago (Col);
30. TCHMIL,Andrei (B);
31. VIRENQUE,Richard (F);
32. REBELLIN,Davide (I);
33. ROBIN,Jean-Cyril (F);
34. FARESIN,Gianni (I);
35. MUSEEUW,Johan (B);
36. RASMUSSEN,Michael (Dk);
37. AMORIM VALADA,Gon‡alo Jos‚ (Por);
38. SIMONI,Gilberto (I);
39. HEULOT,St‚phane (F);
40. CASAGRANDE,Francesco (I);
41. BASSO,Ivan (I);
42. CASERO MORENO,Angel Luis (Sp);
43. BOOGERD,Michael (Nl);
44. NARDELLO,Daniele (I);
45. BELOKI DORRONSORO,Joseba (Sp), all . st. ;
46. BROCHARD,Laurent (F), at 0:42;
47. MATTAN,Nico (B);
48. DUMA,Vladimir (Ukr);
49. VERHEYEN,Geert (B);
50. GIANETTI,Mauro (Swi);
51. MOOS,Alexandre (Swi);
52. LUTTENBERGER,Peter (A), all s. t. ;
53. BELTRAN MARTINEZ,Manuel (Sp), at 1:00;
54. SEVILLA RIBERA,Oscar (Sp);
55. LOTZ,Marc (Nl);
56. RUBIERA VIGIL,Jos‚ Luis (Sp);
57. BLANCO GIL,Santiago (Sp);
58. MAZZOLENI,Eddy (I);
59. SCIANDRI,Maximilian (GB), all s. t. ;
60. STANGELJ,Gorazd (Slo), at 8:07;
61. LEAPER,Tom (Aus), at10:42;
62. PEREZ ARANGO,Marlon Alirio (Col);
63. LAVARINHAS,Rui (Por);
64. ALVES,Nuno (Por);
65. COX,Ryan (SA);
66. ZUMSTEG,Lukas (Swi);
67. SCHNIDER,Daniel (Swi);
68. BESSY,Fr‚d‚ric (F);
69. BRARD,Florent (F);
70. BOURQUENOUD,Pierre (Swi);
71. BRANDT,Christophe (B);
72. PUGACI,Igor (Mda);
73. LELEKIN,Serguei (Rus);
74. RUMSAS,Raimondas (Ltu);
75. SONNE,Morten (Dk);
76. BARANOWSKI,Dariusz (Pol);
77. AUS,Lauri (Est);
78. BARRY,Michael (Can);
79. CHMIELEWSKI,Piotr (Pol);
80. PRZYDZIAL,Piotr (Pol);
81. WEGELIUS,Charles (GB);
82. HRUSKA,Jan (Cz);
83. KROON,Karsten (Nl);
84. FOFONOV,Dmitri (Kz);
85. KESSLER,Matthias (G);
86. PETROV,Evgeni (Rus);
87. TURPIN,Ludovic (F);
88. POSPYEYEV,Kyrylo (Ukr);
89. DI LUCA,Danilo (I) , all s. t. ;
90. DEN BAKKER,Maarten (Nl), at 14:05;
91. SKELDE,Michael (Dk);
92. ELMIGER,Martin (Swi);
93. BODROGI,Laszlo (H);
94. PRONK,Matth‚ (Nl), all s. t.

Did not finish
VAINSTEINS,Romans (Lat);
BELOHVOSCIKS,Raivis (Lat);
REISS,Andris (Lat);
SPRUCH,Zbigniew (Pol);
SZMYD,Sylvester (Pol);
CUESTA,I¤igo (Sp);
DIAZ JUSTO,Rafael (Sp);
JIMENEZ SANCHEZ,Eliado oESP (Sp);
OSA EIZAGUIRRE,Aitor (Sp);
ALDAG,Rolf (G);
HONDO,Danilo (G);
HUNDERTMARK,Kai (G);
JAKSCHE,J”rg (G);
KLIER,Andreas (G);
NIERMANN,Grischa (G);
SCHRECK,Stephan (G);
VOIGT,Jens (G);
WERNER,Christian (G);
HEULE,Christian (Swi);
PUTTINI,Felice (Swi);
STRAUSS,Marcel (Swi);
ZAMPIERI,Steve (Swi);
HAYMAN,Mathew (Aus);
JONKER,Patrick (Aus);
O’NEILL,Nathan (Aus);
ROGERS,Michael (Aus);
CRUZ,Antonio (USA);
KLUCK,Damon (USA);
PELUSI,Seth (USA);
BOVEN,Jan (Nl);
DE GROOT,Bram (Nl);
DE JONGH,Steven (Nl);
HIEMSTRA,Bert (Nl);
VENEBERG,Thorwald (Nl);
VOSKAMP,Bart (Nl);
BAGUET,Serge (B);
MERCKX,Axel (B);
PEERS,Chris (B);
VAN PETEGEM,Peter (B);
WAUTERS,Marc (B);
DERGANC,Martin (Slo);
LJUNGQVIST,Marcus (Swe);
LOVATT,Mark (GB);
MILLAR,David (GB);
BOUYER,Franck (F);
CHAVANEL,Sylvain (F);
GOUBERT,St‚phane (F);
HALGAND,Patrice (F);
TESSIER,Jean-Michel (F);
BLAUDZUN,Michael (Dk);
HOJ,Frank (Dk);
NIELSEN,Bjarke (Dk);
PETERSEN,Jorgen Bo (Dk);
SORENSEN,Rolf (Dk);
MANDOJA,Innar (Est);
TRUMPAUSKAS,Arturas (Ltu);
WHITE,Nicholas (SA);
DIMITROV,Dimitar (Bul);
HEGREBERG,Morten (N);
BAIGUDINOV,Kairat (Kz);
KASHECHKIN,Andrey (Kz);
KUZNETSOV,Konstantin (Kz);
MIZOUROV,Andrey (Kz);
SABALIN,Alexandru (Mda);
PEREZ CUAPIO,Julio Alberto (Mex);
SZEKERES,Csaba (Hun);
MORSCHER,Harald (A);
TRAMPUSCH,Gerhard (A);
BORISOV,Vladislav (Rus);
GAYNITDINOV,Dmitri (Rus);
IVANOV,Serguei (Rus);
KONYSHEV,Dmitri (Rus);
WONG,Kam-Po (HK);
KLIEMIENKO,Aleksander (Ukr);
WALTERS,Mark (Can);
MITCHELL,Glen (NZ);
VESTY,Brendon (NZ).