Óscar Freire says a critical positioning error in the final kilometer cost him a shot at becoming the first rider in history to win four world championship titles.
The Spanish sprinter said he found himself too far forward as the peloton barreled through the final right-hander with about 900 meters to go in Sunday’s world’s finale in Copenhagen.
“I was in winning shape, but I made an error that cost me,” Freire told the Spanish daily Marca. “I was too far ahead in the final corner. I was on the wheel of Matt Hayman and he pulled off with 350 meters to go, it was still too far for me to make my sprint but too close to the line to leave it to the others.”
Freire said he tried to hold back his sprint rather than to risk going too soon only to find himself getting swarmed from riders behind.
“Gilbert went early and he quickly lost speed. When the others came from behind, it was too fast and they passed me,” Freire explained. “Because I was strong, I managed to pass a few, but it was too late and there was nothing I could do.”
Freire crossed the line in ninth place, a result he said was disappointing considering that he felt like he had a record fourth world title in his legs.
“It’s different when you know you couldn’t do more. I know I could have won, but I made that error,” Freire explained. “The goal this year was to win.”
Freire is one of the four riders who have won the world title three times. The Spanish sprinter has good company with Alfredo Binda (1927, ’30, ’32); Rik Van Steenberger (1949, ’56, ’57) and Eddy Merckx (1967, ’71, ’74).
Two of Freire’s wins came at Verona (1999 and 2004) and a third at Lisbon in 2001.
Freire called the Copenhagen circuit the easiest he’s seen in years.
“After Zolder, this was the easiest worlds we’ve had and it was even easier because we had a tailwind during the sprint,” he said. “Last year (Geelong) was much harder. I wasn’t in top shape and I was sixth, so that was all I could do. This year, I knew I had a shot at winning and I made a critical mistake. That’s why it makes you mad.”
Freire said he’s confirmed to race next season, though he wouldn’t say if it’s with Rabobank or another team. He’s been linked to Geox-TMC, due to strong ties to sport director Joxean Matxin.
Freire has long struggled with injuries and inconsistent form, but is capable of delivering huge results. After a few sub-par seasons, Freire shot out of the blue to win Milan-San Remo for a third time in 2010.
Initially, he was thinking of only racing through the 2012 London Olympic Games next season, but now he’s already thinking of at least one more shot at history.
The Valkenburg world’s course next year finishes atop the Cauberg climb. Unlike the Amstel Gold Race, when the finish line is about 500 meters over the Cauberg summit, the world’s finish line will be 1.7km after the climb.
“I still have another chance,” Freire said. “The Cauberg will be decisive, but the fact that the finish line is one kilometer longer after Cauberg gives me options.”