By Andrew Hood
If Oscar Freire was happy after winning Sunday’s opening stage of the 49th Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucia – the Ruta del Sol – he was downright ecstatic Monday when he roared to his second straight stage-win.
Freire put down a blistering sprint with 350 meters to go, easily holding off nemesis Erik Zabel who couldn’t come around him in the finale of the rolling 165-km stage between Sevilla and Huelva in Spain’s sunny Andalucia region. AG2R’s Jaan Kirsipuu – winner of two races already this month — nearly picked Freire’s pocket with a late charge on the left side of the finishing straight.
Freire, who celebrated his 27th birthday last week, looks great and said he has new motivation since joining Rabobank after leaving Mapei. Freire comes into the 2003 season with more than just added motivation and a new team. For the first time since winning the first of two world titles in 1999, he said he doesn’t have the nagging pains that have plagued him.
“At Mapei, we had a lot who could win. Here, everyone works for me if there’s a sprint. I feel that I finally have a team that will help me,” Freire said. “I am excited about the World Cup races, especially Milan-San Remo. I always arrive in good form there, but this year I am feeling even better.”
With the win, Freire maintained the overall lead of the five-day Ruta del Sol. Early in Monday’s stage, Quick Step’s Jurgen Van Goolen escaped at 35 km. The 22-year-old held a lead over the day’s only obstacle – the category-three Alto del Castilla de las Guardas – but was reeled in with 17 km to go.
Alessio’s Ruslan Ivanov unleashed an attacked with 7 km to go, but Rabobank, Telekom and Phonak kept the bunch under control coming into the flat but windy finishing straight.
Rabobank had Freire set up perfectly, who jumped early with about 350 meters to go. Zabel was right on his wheel, but the veteran German doesn’t seem to lack the early-season punch. Quick Step’s Luca Paolini came on the inside to grab third while Kirsipuu made a charge on the left side and just missed snatching the win away from Freire, who shot his arm into the air as he came across victorious.
Freire’s hold on the leader’s jersey will be in danger in Tuesday’s 166-km third stage from Sevilla to Araceli, a category-one finishing summit with ramps as steep as 18 percent on a steep, narrow road over the six kilometer climb.
Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucia, Ruta del Sol, Stage 2, 165 km, Sevilla to Huelva, Feb. 17, 2003
1. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, 4:04:47 ( 40.44 kph)
2. Jaan Kirsipuu (Lat), AG2R, same time
3. Luca Paolini (I), Quick Step, s.t.
4. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, s.t.
5. Isaac Galvez (Sp), Kelme, s.t.Overall standings after two stages:
1. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, 8 hours, 50 minutes, 16 seconds
1. Oscar Freire (Sp-rabobank) 8:51:16
2. Luca Paolini (ITA-Quick Step) s.t.
3. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom s.t.
4. Isaac Gálvez (Sp)-Kelme CB s.t.
5. Josu Silloniz (Sp)-Euskaltel 8:51:18
6. Tom Boonen (B) s.t.
7. Josep Jufre (Sp) s.t.
8. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp) s.t.
9. Alejandro Valverde (Sp) s.t.
10. Javier pascual Rodriguez (Sp) s.t.
11. Unai Etxebarria (Vz) s.t.
12. Andrea Noe (I) s.t.
13. José Iván Gutiérrez (Sp) s.t.
14. Joaquín Rodríguez (Sp) s.t.
15. Francisco Cabello