By Agence France Presse
Reigning world road race champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) warmed up for next week’s Tour of Flanders by winning the Fleche Brabanconne one-day classic held over 198km between Zaventem and Beersel, Belgium, on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Freire, who a few weeks ago won the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, held off Dutchman Marc Lotz of QuickStep and Davitamon’s Belgian Axel Merckx, who took third place after 3:38:56 of racing.
Freire was one of the day’s main animators, the Spaniard forming part of a 15-strong group that charged out of the main field in the latter stages of the race.
The escape group included American George Hincapie, the recent winner of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. With Hincapie’s Discovery Channel teammate, Lance Armstrong, having fulfilled his promised support role for the New Yorker, the 33-year-old Texan sat back in the peloton.
A nervous finale ensued, with several attacks failing to gain any advantage as the finish line drew near.
It was left to Freire to take matters into his own hands, the Spaniard accelerating away from his 14 breakaway companions with around 20km to go.
Only Lotz and Merckx managed to keep pace but once it came to a three-man sprint on an incline towards the finish line, Freire was left unchallenged.
It has given the Spanish sprinter a certain degree of comfort ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders, the fourth race of the 27-leg ProTour series, as in the past few days he had complained of a buttock muscle strain.
The Fleche Brabanconne is part of the UCI’s European tour calendar and is considered a useful warm-up for the Tour of Flanders, where Freire will be looking to take back the lead of the ProTour series from Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who was not participating. Petacchi (93 points), the winner of Milan-San Remo last week, leads Freire (78) by 15 points. Fifty points are offered for victory in a one-day ProTour race such as Flanders and Milan-San Remo.1. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank, 4:31:16
2. Marc Lotz (Nl), QuickStep s.t.
3. Axel Merckx (B), Davitamon-Lotto s.t.
4. Wim Van Huffel (B), Davitamon-Lotto at 0:41
5. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank At 0:42
6. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel
7. Nick Nuyens (B), QuickStep
8. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Ag2r Prévoyance
9. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), CSC
10. Sébastien Joly (Fra), Crédit Agricole, all s.t.Other North Americans
43 Lance Armstrong (USA),, Doscovery Channel, at 3:43
46 Saul Raisin (USA), Crédit Agricole s.t.