Three-time world champion Oscar Freire officially announced his retirement from professional cycling yesterday, closing a 14-year career.
Freire’s world titles span from 1999 to 2004, when he raced with teams Vitalicio Seguros, Mapei and Rabobank. The Spaniard rode his last season with team Katusha.
“He’s a big champion, somebody born with talent,” Katusha’s sports director, Valerio Piva told Cycling Weekly. Piva also directed with Mapei, the Italian team Freire joined after winning his first title. “Maybe it was his first year with Mapei, he showed up to a race without training for around one week and won. He’s somebody that doesn’t need a lot of training to be in condition.”
The 36-year-old went on to win Milan-San Remo three times. He also won one-day classics Paris-Tours, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Vattenfall Cyclassics. He sprinted to four stages in the Tour de France, including the green jersey in 2008, and seven stages in the Vuelta a España.
Mark Cavendish (Sky), with one San Remo win and one world title, is more of a pure sprinter. Freire’s climbing strength allowed him to continue when other sprinters faded. He placed fourth in this year’s Amstel Gold Race. Piva compared Freire to German Erik Zabel, who retired in 2008 without a world title, but with four San Remo wins and six green jerseys.
Piva explained, “Maybe if he focused more on the classics in Belgium, he could’ve done better in a race like [Tour of] Flanders.”
Freire’s nine-year run with Rabobank ended on bad terms. The team failed to offer him a decent contract offer for 2012 after a sub-par season.
“For me it’s hard,” Freire said in January at the Tour Down Under. “I expected to finish my career in this team.”
Rabobank called it a “pure business” decision. “We have always worked well together,” explained team manager, Erik Breukink. “We don’t deny that he was very valuable for us through the years.”
Freire responded immediately at the start of this year with team Katusha. He won a stage in the Tour Down Under in January and one, his last win, in the Tour of Andalusia. A crash, and subsequent fractured rib and a punctured lung in the Tour de France ruined part of his season. It forced him to miss the Olympics and fight to return for the World Championships, which he said was going to be his last race unless he won his fourth title. He place 10th.
“He was fantastic. After a season like that many riders would think they could do better next year, but he stopped,” Piva said. “I know that every year it became harder on him to be away from his family and focus on his season.”
Freire lives near Lugano with his wife and two children. He said he has offers for work, but has not clarified what it may be. Piva laughed at the idea of him becoming a sports director. He said, “Planning is not his strong point.” Freire famously drove to a training ride once, pulled his bike out of his car and realised he left the front wheel at home.
“He does not [centre] his life around cycling. He has a lot of other interests, he’s not thinking every day about his bike and training,” Piva added.
“When I came to Katusha this year we gave everyone a SRM [power meter], but Oscar said, ‘I’m not going to start using one now, it’s my last year.’ We couldn’t tell him differently, he is a three-time world champion. Like I said, he’s a talent.”