Freire sees Amstel Gold opportunities to cap strong spring

Three-time world champ hopes to cap strong spring campaign with a win atop the Cauberg on Sunday


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MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — Oscar Freire is quietly planning his final season and waiting for his chance to pounce, which may come in the Amstel Gold Race Sunday.

“If the group doesn’t set a very high pace then the race will arrive in a big group and be decided in a sprint,” he told VeloNews. “If that’s the case, I’ll have my chance.”

The three-time world champion will lead the Russian Katusha squad with teammate Joaquím Rodríguez on Sunday. They’ll each have their chance, Freire for a group sprint and Rodríguez for a small, attacking sprint. Last year, ‘Purito’ Rodríguez was second best behind winner Philippe Gilbert after opening the hilltop sprint with an early attack on the Cauberg.

“Purito,” Freire said, “is in good form.”

Freire is in good form, too. He opened the year with a January win at the Tour Down Under to prove to his former Rabobank team that it was a mistake to let him go.

“I’ve found my motivation riding with Katusha, so I don’t have any regrets with the decision,” he said.

After nine years together, Rabobank refused Freire a decent contract for 2012, likely to be his final season as a professional. He said at the Tour Down Under that “it’s hard” and that he expected to end his career with the Dutch team. He explained, “They left their best rider with the most results. I’m not sure that was a good decision.”

Freire has achieved good results in the classics over the last month: seventh in Milan-San Remo, second in E3 Harelbeke, fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem, 12th in the Tour of Flanders and second Wednesday in Brabantse Pijl.

“I’m happy for the way in which I’ve arrived at these results: in every case, I’ve given my all and I couldn’t do any more,” he said. “Some races I could’ve won and I finished second by centimeters, but that’s cycling.”

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) escaped and won Brabantse Pijl alone on Wednesday, but in Harelbeke, Freire narrowly lost the sprint to Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He said that he erred in the sprint and misjudged the distance to the finish line.

In Amstel Gold, he’s had a string of top-10 finishes, including fifth back in 2002 and sixth last year. He’ll start in Maastricht on Sunday and contest Liège-Bastogne-Liège prior to a break.

“We have different strategies because we’re a strong team with more than one possible rider who can win,” he explained. Besides Rodríguez and Freire, Katusha fields Luca Paolini.

Italy’s Valerio Piva will help direct the team. He joined Katusha this year, reuniting with Freire after 10 years apart following their days at Mapei.

“Nothing’s changed since then, he’s a talent,” Piva told VeloNews. “What he does, he does it naturally: he’s never trained with an SRM, never anything in particular. He’s always won races doing it the same way.”

Freire is ready to retire at the end of this season. Only a record fourth win in the world championships — on a modified finish atop the Cauberg — could keep him going into next season.

“I’ll take a break after the [Ardennes] races because there are those races later on in the season where it’s clear I want to do well,” he said. “The Tour de France, Olympics, the worlds; I want to try in those races.”

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