Oscar Freire finally did it: after ten years of racing, three World Championship wins, two victories in Milan-San Remo and three Tour stages, the Spanish sprint star has taken his first ever major stage race lead.
Freire?s gold leader’s jersey came after the Rabobank rider stormed to his fourth ever Vuelta stage win – in Santiago de Compostela in a difficult uphill sprint. Second was reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), with Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) finishing third.
What should have been a straightforward stage for the fastmen changed radically when a huge pile-up two kilometres from the finish saw all bar some 30 riders blocked in. Amongst those affected was overnight race leader Daniele Bennati (Lampre).
As the crash took place with less than three kilometres to go, all riders were given the same time at the finish. Oscar Pereiro (Caisse D?Epargne) was one of the favourites affected, with an injured hip. Pereiro could finish and initial reports suggest he has not been serious affected.
?If I?d been one rider further back, I?d have fallen.? Freire commented. ?I even collided with Bennati just after he?d gone down, but fortunately I could stay upright.?
?I had no idea if I had 20, 40 or 80 riders on my back wheel, I didn?t look back. It was a difficult finish and you had to concentrate.”
“These tough uphill sprints suit me though, and I felt much better than yesterday [where Freire took second] when I had an upset stomach.?
?For me it?s great finally to lead a major Tour, although I don?t know how long I?ll be in gold for – Tuesday [when the race finishes at Covadonga] at the latest.?
Never afraid to speak his mind, Freire argued that rather than three kilometres, the distance within which riders should all be given the same time if they were caught out by crashes should be extended to ?whenever the race reaches the finish town.?
Freire also launched an attack on the UCI?s decision to exclude Alejandro Valverde from the World Championships, saying that ?the whole situation has gone on for too long, over 18 months and it?s only now that the UCI decides that he should be barred.”
Tour of Spain stage two Allariz – Santiago de Compostela 143.7km
1 Oscar Freire (Spain) Rabobank 3-31-03
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
3 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
5 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
6 Rene Mandri (Est) Ag2R
7 Aurelien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues
8 L.L. Sanchez (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne
9 Renaud Dion (Fra) Ag2R
10 Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) T-Mobile
174 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas all st
Tour of Spain overall after two stages
1 Oscar Freire (Spain) Rabobank 7-14-12
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
3 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
4 Aurelien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues
5 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
6 Alan Perez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
7 Patrick Calcagni (Swi) Liquigas
8 Andre Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile
9 Angelo Furlan (Ita) Credit Agricole
10 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia
161 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas all st
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Official site: www.lavuelta.com.