Road

Wednesday’s EuroFile: Freire still out; Ullrich still on; Pros pass on Prague

No Vuelta for Freire, worlds in doubtThree-time world champion Oscar Freire will miss the upcoming Vuelta a España and is doubtful for the 2005 world championships. According to a report in the Spanish sports daily AS, Freire is still recovering from an operation to remove a cyst in mid-June. Complications have kept the Spanish rider out of competition ever since and he says he’s in no shape to race the three-week Vuelta, scheduled for Aug. 27-Sept. 18. “It’s impossible that I can get into form in time for the Vuelta. Without being able to train, I can’t start a three-week race,” Freire

By Andrew Hood

Freire winning his third rainbow jersey last fall.

Freire winning his third rainbow jersey last fall.

Photo: Graham Watson

No Vuelta for Freire, worlds in doubt
Three-time world champion Oscar Freire will miss the upcoming Vuelta a España and is doubtful for the 2005 world championships.

According to a report in the Spanish sports daily AS, Freire is still recovering from an operation to remove a cyst in mid-June. Complications have kept the Spanish rider out of competition ever since and he says he’s in no shape to race the three-week Vuelta, scheduled for Aug. 27-Sept. 18.

“It’s impossible that I can get into form in time for the Vuelta. Without being able to train, I can’t start a three-week race,” Freire told AS. “It will be logical to make specific training sessions and race in something in Italy to try to arrive in form for the world championships.”

Freire had surgery June 15 to remove a troublesome boil. While the surgery and subsequent recovery have gone as expected, Freire said it’s still too painful to sit long hours in the saddle.

“The problem is that it bothers me when I sit on the bike. Yesterday when I tried to train, it felt a little better, but I can’t stay in the saddle,” Freire said.

With the world championships set for Sept. 25 in Madrid, Freire desperately wants to defend his rainbow jersey in front of what’s sure to be a riotous home crowd.

Freire hasn’t raced seriously since April. He started the Tour de Suisse in June, but pulled out after four stages to have the painful cyst surgically removed.

Under normal conditions, Freire would be one of the top candidates to win an unprecedented fourth world title, but ever he admits things look dicey with less than two months to go.

“I don’t want to miss the world’s in Madrid, but what’s clear is that I’m not going to be able to start the world’s in full strength,” he said. “You have to be in perfect condition for the world’s. It’s not like it’s a local race and the Madrid course isn’t exactly flat.”

No stopping Ullrich
If only the Tour de France were four weeks long, Jan Ullrich would win every year.

The big German rider always seems to come into his best form in the Tour’s final week, albeit a little too late to challenge Lance Armstrong’s stranglehold on the yellow jersey.

Ullrich brushed off two serious crashes (one the day before the Tour started and another in the Vosges) to finish on the Tour podium for the seventh time in eight Tour starts.

Ullrich is not letting his strong form that helped propel him into third place in the Tour’s final days go to waste.

The 1997 Tour champ has a busy post-Tour criterium schedule this week: in Graz, Austria on Tuesday, the Europa Criterium back in Austria on Thursday and Hannover, Germany on Friday. Ullrich had planned to race the the Prague GP on Wednesday, but he joined a host of other professionals who opted out of the event. (see below)

Ullrich will race in this weekend’s HEW Cyclassics (which he won in 1997) and then line up for the Tour of Germany later this month.

Top riders give a pass on Prague event
The Prague criterium on Wednesday was boycotted by the major stars who had been due to compete, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

The event was delayed after some competitors pulled out at the eleventh hour amid fears that organisers were short of money to pay them, CTK said.

The star of the 64-kilometer race around the city’s gracious Wenceslas Square was to have been Germany’s Jan Ullrich, winner of the Tour de France in 1997 who finished third in the same event this year. But he did not race.
Agence France Press

Saiz excited about Vinokourov
Manolo Saiz, sport director at Liberty Seguros-Würth, said new addition Alexandre Vinokourov will provide added firepower the team’s unfulfilled Tour de France aspirations.

Three-time Vuelta champion Roberto Heras has fallen short in two consecutive Tour campaigns, but Saiz believes the attacking rider from Kazakhstan is the perfect complement to Heras’s climbing potential.

“Together with Roberto, they will form a good tandem to not put too much pressure on the young riders, who will be able to take over in the coming years,” Saiz said. “Vinokourov doesn’t come to substitute anyone, but to complement and strengthen Liberty Seguros in both the three-week tours and the classics.”

A frustrated Heras has already said he wants to skip next year’s Tour and instead focus on riding a strong Giro d’Italia before turning his attention to the Vuelta.

Saiz, meanwhile, is understandably excited about signing Vinokourov to join the Spanish team for three seasons.

“He fits our team for his competitiveness, his leadership abilities, especially in the Tour de France,” Saiz said. “He’s demonstrated an attitude that fits perfectly with my team. Vinokourov, above all, is a leader who will be a teacher for the young riders for the next three seasons.”

Vinokourov will have to quickly learn Spanish to be able to communicate with most of his teammates. No word yet on whether the polyglot Saiz has learned any Kazakh

Cauberg in ’06 Tour?
Belgian papers are reporting that the Cauberg climb, the steep cobbled climb that’s been the finish line the past few editions of the Amstel Gold Race, could be part of next year’s Tour de France.

The Tour finished on the Cauberg in 1992, when French rider Gilles Delion won a stage in Valkenbourg. The 1996 Tour started in s’Hertogenbosch in what was the fourth time the Tour made its grand depart from Holland.

The 2006 Tour starts in Strasbourg in eastern France while the remainder of the course will be announced during a presentation in October.