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Three’s a charm: Freire earns his third rainbow jersey

How satisfying it must feel to be Oscar Freire when the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to turn. There’s something extra gratifying about winning the last big event of the year, when instead of just getting back to work in the following weeks, you can enjoy the success in the quiet off-season. Winning the world championships is cycling’s version of a walk-off homer, the buzzer beating swish. And no one in today’s pro ranks does it better than Freire, a Spaniard who put his name alongside cycling legends Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx by winning his third world road

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By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor

As Freire wins, Horner's big grin shines through from the back

As Freire wins, Horner’s big grin shines through from the back

Photo: Graham Watson

Photo: AFP

How satisfying it must feel to be Oscar Freire when the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to turn. There’s something extra gratifying about winning the last big event of the year, when instead of just getting back to work in the following weeks, you can enjoy the success in the quiet off-season. Winning the world championships is cycling’s version of a walk-off homer, the buzzer beating swish. And no one in today’s pro ranks does it better than Freire, a Spaniard who put his name alongside cycling legends Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx by winning his third world road race championship in Verona, Italy, on Sunday.

Mr. World Championships added a third world title to his name by putting the finishing touches on a masterful race by his powerful Spanish team in Verona. In a hard-fought battle that took nearly seven hours to complete, Freire edged out German Erik Zabel and Luca Paolini of Italy, who finished second and third respectively in the 265.5km race. American Chris Horner put in another sensational world championship race, fighting hard to make the final selection of 15 riders and finish eighth in the sprint down on Verona’s historic Porta Nuova street. It was proof once again that Horner, the top dog on the U.S. circuit, is also one of the best road racers in the world.

“This has been a big result,” Horner said. “I really wanted top-five. Last year I had better legs, I felt much better the whole race. It’s good to come back and show I can ride at the level.”

Freire, who joined the Italian Binda (1927, ’30, ’32), and Belgians Van Steenbergen (1949, ’56, ’57) and Merckx (1967, ’71, ’74) in the three-win honors, said the days leading up to Sunday’s race gave him fond memories of his first world title, won here in 1999.

“When I was training in Verona these last few days, I had a lot of emotions that reminded me of the great feeling I had at the last race I won in Verona,” Freire said. “The first win in ’99 was a surprise, I didn’t think I could win then. But this year I was more confident because I knew I had a good team.”

Photo: Graham Watson

The field of 200 elite men started at 10 a.m. on the expansive Corso Porta Nuova just a few hundred meters from Verona’s 1st century Arena. Enjoying mild temperatures and hazy autumn sunshine, thousands of spectators strolled the streets and plazas with pizza slices and gelatos in hand as the race unfolded.

The main climbs had pavement painted as colorfully as a grand tour summit road, and the swelling crowds pressed against the barriers as the race heated up in the afternoon. Others watched from the hundreds of cafes lining the streets of Verona.

Le Mevel got the attacks started

Le Mevel got the attacks started

Photo: Graham Watson

France’s Christophe Le Mevel wasted no time getting things started when he attacked on the first of 18 trips up the Torricelle climb, a green ridge looking over Verona. The main obstacle on the 14.75km course, the Torricelle was not daunting in its size, but rather its frequency. When the road world championships were held here in 1999, the pro men faced the 3.3km long, 700-foot ascent 16 times; this time it was 18. Just over a kilometer-and-half was lopped off the 1999 course, giving riders a little less time to recover as they wound through the stone churches and fortresses of the city each lap.

Le Mevel built a gap and was eventually joined by Russian Vladimir Efimkin at the front. After a couple of laps, Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini launched a chase, briefly cut into the lead duo’s time gap at the front, then dangled in no man’s land until nearly the midway point of the race. When Pagliarini eventually gave up, showboating in front of the massive crowds on the Torricelle by waving and riding wheelies, the field was already more than eight minutes behind Le Mevel and Efimkin.

Proving their disinterest in the leaders, the main field paraded through the streets for the first three hours of the long race. The times from the start-finish area to the top of the climb got slower and slower until the tenth lap when a few attacks were launched on the climb and the real racing began. Italian Danielle Nardello made a move and was followed by four others, and after they were absorbed another group of about 25 riders split off the front in a move initiated by Filippo Simeoni of the Italian team. Included in the group were Guido Trenti, Chris Baldwin and Jason McCartney of the U.S. team.

As they set out for lap 11 of 18, this new chase group had a gap of 1:40 over the main field. Le Mevel and Efimkin were still out front by 3:10. McCartney got dropped the next time up the climb as the pace heated up, and the two leaders were reeled in at 162km. Right around that time, Olympic champion Paulo Bettini got a scare when he had to get a front wheel change and chase back on.

The next to attack was Frenchman Sylvain Calzati, who was joined by Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands), Steve Zampieri (Switzerland), Frank Hoj (Denmark) and Bartosz Huzarski (Poland). That group built a 55-second gap over the main field, which had caught the other chase group as they headed out for 13th of 18 laps.

Having made it back to the main group after the mechanical problems, Bettini was still struggling, going back to the team car several times, pointing to his knee and surrounded by trusty teammates. He dropped off the back again with 55km to go, soft-pedaling around the course in front of shoulder-shrugging, eyebrow-raising Italian fans. At the end of the 14th lap, Bettini pulled off the course and called it a day, later revealing that he had banged his knee on a car door when he was getting a wheel change.

Favored for a medal, Bettini's day did not go as planned.

Favored for a medal, Bettini’s day did not go as planned.

Photo: Graham Watson

Back at the front, the five leaders had built their lead up to more than two minutes, but the chase soon heated up and they were caught with 35km to go. The Aussies went to the front of the field, first with Matt White, and then with the newly crowned world time trial champion Michael Rogers. His knee bleeding from a crash earlier in the race, Rogers set the pace until a series of accelerations on the Torricelle with less than three laps to go.

With Bettini out of the race, the Italians put their hopes on Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego. Cresting the top of the Torricelle on lap 17, Basso attacked, but he was chased down by Dutch rider Michael Boogerd. The group behind began to splinter under the pressure, but Horner, the only American left in the front group, maintained his position.

With six Spanish riders still in the front group, down to about 25 riders on the second-to-last lap, Basso and Boogerd were quickly chased down, and the group came back together on the descent and the final run through town.

It was clear who was in charge as the leaders approached the Torricelle for the last climb. Six Spanish riders drove the pace, with the five Italians sitting just behind.

“Until about three or four kilometers from the finish, I had the impression that I was in Zolder,” said Paolini, referring to the flat sprinter’s world championship in Belgium two years ago, which was won by Mario Cipollini.

With no chance against the sprinters in the group, most notably Freire, Zabel and Australian Stuart O’Grady, Danish climber Michael Rasmussen launched an attack up the right side of the road as soon as they hit the climb for the final time. Once again, Boogerd chased, and as the lead group descended back toward the Roman walls of Verona, it was a group of 17, with things looking good for Freire.

“I knew it was going to be a difficult sprint because O’Grady and Zabel are very dangerous,” Freire said. “But I was very confident because my teammate Valverde would help me. Valverde was very, very important to my win.”

As the lead group rounded the final righthand corner 700 meters from the finish, Spain was in control, but one lone figure in red-white-and-blue was fighting his way up on the right. Horner clawed through the star-studded field until he was sitting about fifth wheel 400 meters from the finish.

“I was on Freire’s wheel coming through the last corner, then he swung this way, then the typical sprinter’s stuff, taking people this way and that way,” said Horner. “When the sprint started, I was in the 11, but the 11 was skipping and I just couldn’t even get it going.”

It was still good enough for eighth, the top result for an American pro since Chann McRae’s fifth-place finish here in Verona in 1999.

In the week of world championships, Germany led the medal count with six, including two golds. The Czech Republic was the only other nation with more than one win. The U.S. got on the medal board for the first time since 2001 with Rebecca Much’s silver medal in the junior women’s time trial.

Results
1. Oscar Freire (Spain) 265.5km in 6:57:15
2. Erik Zabel (Germany) same time
3. Luca Paolini (Italy) s.t.
4. Stuart O’Grady (Australia) s.t.
5. Allan Davis (Australia) s.t.
6. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) s.t.
7. Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) s.t.
8. Chris Horner (USA) s.t.
9. Damiano Cunego (Italy) s.t.
10. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) s.t.
11. Ivan Basso (Italy) s.t.
12. Francisco Mancebo (Spain) s.t.
13. Michael Rasmussen (Denmark) s.t.
14. Danilo Hondo (Germany) s.t.
15. Marcos Serrano (Spain) s.t.
FULLRESULTS


To see how today’s race developed, simply open up our LIVE UPDATE WINDOW.

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Results

Results
1. Oscar Freire (Spain) 265.5km in 6:57:15

2. Erik Zabel (Germany) same time

3. Luca Paolini (Italy) s.t.

4. Stuart O’Grady (Australia) s.t.

5. Allan Davis (Australia) s.t.

6. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) s.t.

7. Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) s.t.
8. Chris Horner (USA) s.t.

9. Damiano Cunego (Italy) s.t.

10. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) s.t.

11. Ivan Basso (Italy) s.t.

12. Francisco Mancebo (Spain) s.t.

13. Michael Rasmussen (Denmark) s.t.
14. Danilo Hondo (Germany) s.t.

15. Marcos Serrano (Spain) s.t.
16. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan), at 0:05

17. Luis Perez Rodriguez (Spain), at 0:09

18. Steffen Wesemann (Germany), at 0:26

19. Matthias Kessler (Germany), at 0:58

20. Karsten Kroon (Netherlands), at 1:39

21. Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Colombia), s.t.

22. Dario Frigo (Italy), at 1:41

23. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Italy), s.t.

24. Ivan Ramiro Parra Pinto (Colombia), at 3:09

25. Dmitri Konyshev (Russia), at 4:26

26. Martin Elmiger (Switzerland), s.t.

27. Erki Pütsep (Estonia), s.t.

28. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukraine), s.t.

29. Peter Van Petegem (Belgium), s.t.

30. Uros Murn (Slovenia), s.t.

31. Geert Verheyen (Belgium), s.t.

32. Pineau Jérôme (France), s.t.

33. Fabian Wegmann (Germany), s.t.

34. Cezary Zamana (Poland), s.t.

35. Grégory Rast (Switzerland), s.t.

36. Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez (Colombia), s.t.

37. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway), s.t.

38. Roger Beuchat (Switzerland), s.t.

39. Nicki Sorensen (Denmark), s.t.

40. Alexandre Botcharov (Russia), s.t.

41. Harald Morscher (Austria), s.t.

42. Matej Mugerli (Slovenia), s.t.

43. Daniel Schnider (Switzerland), s.t.

44. Ruslan Ivanov (Moldova), s.t.

45. Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Spain), s.t.

46. David Moncoutie (France), s.t.

47. Freddy Excelino Gonzalez Martinez (Colombia), s.t.

48. Nicolas Vogondy (France), s.t.

49. Igor Pugaci (Moldova), s.t.

50. David O’Loughlin (Ireland), s.t.

51. Serge Baguet (Belgium), s.t.

52. Johan Van Summeren (Belgium), s.t.

53. Peter Luttenberger (Austria), s.t.

54. Alexandre Bazhenov (Russia), s.t.

55. Volodymir Gustov (Ukraine), s.t.

56. Ondrej Sosenka (Czech Republic), s.t.

57. Tomas Konecny (Czech Republic), s.t.

58. Jure Golcer (Slovenia), s.t.

59. Luca Mazzanti (Italy), s.t.

60. Fabian Jeker (Switzerland), s.t.

61. Romans Vainsteins (Latvia), s.t.

62. Cristian Moreni (Italy), s.t.

63. Isidro Nozal Vega (Spain), at 4:34

64. Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Spain), s.t.

65. Franco Pellizotti (Italy), s.t.

66. Rolf Aldag (Germany), s.t.

67. Daniele Nardello (Italy), s.t.

68. Christophe Rinero (France), at 6:23

69. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spain), s.t.

70. Vladimir Goussev (Russia), s.t.

71. Steve Zampieri (Switzerland), s.t.

72. Vladimir Duma (Ukraine), s.t.

73. Marius Sabaliauskas (Lithuania), at 8:06

74. David Mc Cann (Ireland), at 9:54

75. Eric Leblacher (France), s.t.

76. Pedro Cardoso (Portugal), s.t.

77. Mateusz Mroz (Poland), s.t.

78. Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden), s.t.

79. Guido Trenti (USA), s.t.

80. Patrick Calcagni (Switzerland), s.t.

81. Michael Rogers (Australia), s.t.

82. Bram Tankink (Netherlands), s.t.

83. Nico Sijmens (Belgium), at 9:57

84. Nick Nuyens (Belgium), s.t.

85. Frank Hoj (Denmark), at 10:30

86. Matej Jurco (Slovakia), at 28:45

87. Charles Dionne (Canada), s.t.

88. Morten Hegreberg (Norway), s.t.

Abandoned:

Erik Dekker (Netherlands)

Gerben Löwik (Netherlands)

Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands)

Stephan Schreck (Germany)

Cadel Evans (Australia)

Nelson Vitorino (Portugal)

Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan)

José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spain)

Wim Van Huffel (Belgium)

Stefano Garzelli (Italy)

Jan Boven (Netherlands)

Maarten Den Bakker (Netherlands)

Marc Lotz (Netherlands)

Pieter Weening (Netherlands)

Simon Gerrans (Australia)

Luke Roberts (Australia)

Matthew White (Australia)

Michael Albasini (Switzerland)

Marcus Zberg (Switzerland)

Mikhail Timochine (Russia)

Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus)

Gerhard Trampusch (Austria)

Laurent Brochard (France)

Sylvain Calzati (France)

Nuno Alves (Portugal)

Helder Miranda (Portugal)

Bartosz Huzarski (Poland)

Sebastian Skiba (Poland)

Raimondas Rumsas (Lithuania)

Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)

Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium)

Paolo Bettini (Italy)

Roberto Petito (Italy)

Ronny Scholz (Germany)

Christian Werner (Germany)

Scott Davis (Australia)

Mathew Hayman (Australia)

Marcel Strauss (Switzerland)

Johann Tschopp (Switzerland)

Andrey Kluyev (Russia)

Christopher Baldwin (USA)

Michael Creed (USA)

Tom Danielson (USA)

Christian Vande Velde (USA)

Leonardo Duque (Colombia)

Denys Kostyuk (Ukraine)

Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine)

Hugo Sabido (Portugal)

Dmitriy Fofonov (Kazakhstan)

Serguei Yakovlev (Kazakhstan)

Przemyslaw Niemec (Poland)

Marek Rutkiewicz (Poland)

Alejandro Borrajo (Argentina)

Eladio Jimenez Sanchez (Spain)

Markus Fothen (Germany)

Sebastian Lang (Germany)

Cyril Dessel (France)

Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Spain)

Paul Crake (Australia)

Kristjan Fajt (Slovenia)

Peter Wrolich (Austria)

Volodymyr Bileka (Ukraine)

Krzysztof Ciesielski (Poland)

Carlström Kjell (Finland)

José Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spain)

Maxime Monfort (Belgium)

Marc Wauters (Belgium)

Filippo Simeoni (Italy)

Bram De Groot (Netherlands)

Thorwald Veneberg (Netherlands)

Lars Ytting Bak (Denmark)

Michael Blaudzun (Denmark)

René Joergensen (Denmark)

Michael Skelde (Denmark)

Michael Barry (Canada)

Stefan Schumacher (Germany)

David McPartland (Australia)

Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)

Alexandr Arekeev (Russia)

Vladimir Efimkin (Russia)

Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia)

Serguei Ivanov (Russia)

Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia)

Oleg Zhukov (Russia)

Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA)

Jason McCartney (USA)

Fred Rodriguez (USA)

Christophe Le Mevel (France)

Franck Renier (France)

Benoît Joachim (Luxembourg)

Tom Southam (Great Britain)

Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukraine)

Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan)

Shinri Suzuki (Japan)

Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden)

Allan Johansen (Denmark)

Kirk O’Bee (USA)

Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukraine)

Jaroslaw Welniak (Poland)

Mirko Poldma (Estonia)

Tom Boonen (Belgium)

Yannick Talabardon (France)

Charles Wegelius (Great Britain)

Laszlo Garamszegi (Hungary)

Mads Kaggestad (Norway)

Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mexico)

Stefan Adamsson (Sweden)

Jonas Ljungblad (Sweden)

Sandy Casar (France)

Luciano André Pagliarini Mendonca (Brazil)

Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia)

Murilo Fischer (Brazil)