Spanish pro Oscar Freire proved to his former Rabobank team this week in Australia that he was worth retaining. He won a Tour Down Under stage on Friday and showed that he is ready for his final season with his new team, Katusha.
“They left their best rider with the most results,” Freire said. “I don’t know if it was good that they did that.”
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The 35-year-old Spaniard is a three-time World Champion. During his nine years with Rabobank, 2003 to 2011, he won Milan-San Remo three times, the Tour de France green jersey and Ghent-Wevelgem.
Ahead of last year, he spoke of retirement and decided to renew with Rabobank for one year instead of two. He wanted to continue, but at the end of last season, Rabobank refused him a decent contract for 2012.
Freire had a below-par season, only winning in the Tour of Andalusia in February. He crashed in Milan-San Remo and was sick in the Vuelta a España. Rabobank asked him to skip the Tour de France and a chance for a fifth stage win because it wanted to compete with a classification team.
He left the Dutch team at year-end and found home with Russia’s Katusha team. He will retire this autumn after racing in the Olympic Games for a fourth time.
“For me it’s hard,” Freire explained. “I expected to finish my career in this team.”
Rabobank calls it a “pure business” decision.
“That’s what’s only counts in top sports,” said team manager, Erik Breukink.
“To be honest, I have a strange feeling about the way he left Rabobank. We have always worked well together. We don’t deny that he was very valuable for us through the years.”
Freire spoke to Breukink this week at the Tour Down Under and remained friendly, but he prefers to focus on his final season. He out-sprinted Gerald Ciolek and Daniele Bennati to win the fourth stage in Tanunda on Friday.
“The principle motivation,” Freire said, “is to finish my career at a good level and with a good feeling.”
Katusha will field him in the Tour de France even if it now has classification rider, Denis Menchov. Freire will also focus on a fourth Milan-San Remo win and the Olympics in London.