By Andrew Hood
Isaac Galvez (Illes Balears) won for the second day in a row in the Mallorca Challenge a day after Oscar Freire (Rabobank) returned to action following an eight-month break from racing.
Freire lined up in Sunday’s start for what was his first day in the saddle since undergoing surgery last June to remove a painful cyst that forced him out of last year’s Tour de France and the world championships in Madrid
A cautious Freire skipped Monday’s second leg of the Spanish race while Galvez’ teammates did excellent work to hold off Olympic champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) in the 159km race.
For Freire, Mallorca is the first step back to what he hopes is a return to form that’s carried him to a record-tying three world titles.
“I will return stronger than ever,” Freire told the Spanish daily Marca. “I believe I can have a great season.”
Freire, who will turn 29 this month, is optimistic ahead of the 2006 season, saying he’ll target the spring classics, a strong Tour de France with a possible run at the green jersey and then cap it off with a stab at a record fourth world title.
“I have three titles and I’d like to be the only one with four rainbow jerseys,” he said. “Little by little, I feel better. I am taking everything with a lot of caution, because it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve come back only to fall back again. The pain has disappeared, but I don’t want to abuse it because you pay for it later. Last year I lost a big opportunity. I was strong, proven by the fact that I won just about everything I raced, but later came my injury and I couldn’t lift my head.”
Freire said he fought off pressure from Rabobank officials to come back too soon and instead gave his body time to recover from injury. For now, he said he feels no pain when he’s back in the saddle.
Tosatto impressed with Boonen
One of the biggest rivalries this year will be the match-up before Alessandro Petacchi and Tom Boonen. The world champion Boonen is already off to a fast start, racking up wins and the overall at the Tour of Qatar while Petacchi notched his first win for his new team, Milram, at this weekend’s GP Etruschi in Italy.
The pair is set to face off for the first time this season in the Ruta del Sol later this month.
One rider who’s had a ring-side seat to both riders, Petacchi’s former Fassa Bortolo teammate Matteo Tosatto, said he’s impressed with his new boss at Quick Step, none other than Boonen.
“Tom is much more explosive, while Alessandro has more experience and is stronger on a long sprint. However, Tom has won so many races already that he doesn’t stand behind,” Tosatto told AFP. “Alessandro will always remain my friend, but I couldn’t turn down the Quick Step offer. Now it’s my job to race for Tom.”
Tosatto used to provide key brawn late in the chase for Petacchi’s train at the now defunct Fassa Bortolo. When the team collapsed last fall after the title sponsor pulled the plug, Tosatto got an offer he couldn’t refuse from Quick Step.
Now Tosatto’s strength will be Boonen’s gain and Petacchi’s loss. The Italian papers were already full of questions about the strength of Petacchi’s new train at Milram, largely absent in the late going in this weekend’s Etruschi race.
Tosatto said he believes Boonen can add even more trophies to his already bulging case.
“Tom is very strong at the moment,” Tosatto said. “At Milan-San Remo, if he can follow me on the last difficulties, including the Poggio, I’m sure that he’ll win.”
Liquigas riders who aren’t racing the Challenge de Mallorca nor in the altitude training camp in Mexico with ProTour champion Danilo Di Luca are putting in some miles along the Italian coast at Donoratico. The team raced in the GP Etruschi this weekend and will continue with some training rides through next weekend. Riders heading to the camp include
Mauro Da Dalto