Farewell to Oscar Freire

A number of riders are hanging up their helmets and we’re going to be paying homage to some of them during the off-season. First up, Oscar Freire, a diminutive rider with a massive palmares  – wins in every season as a professional – which might have been even longer and more illustrious were it not for his even longer list of medical complaints. Oscar’s been threatening to retire for a number of seasons but 2012 really was his last, not even a role as a rider/trainer at Euskaltel-Euskadi could tempt him to remain in the peloton for a moment longer. So let’s have a fond look back at his prolific career which included three World Championships  – equalling the records of Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen and the legendary Eddy Merckx – and three Milan-San Remo victories, among many others.

The Cantabrian’s career got off to a promising start with 41 victories and three local titles as a junior with SC Besaya (1992-94). Next he rode for Joxean Fernandez (who went on to manage Saunier Duval and Geox), notching up a further 17 wins, the most important of which was Memorial Valenciaga in 1997, where he beat a number of future professionals including Carlos Sastre. He finished the year as runner-up to Norwegian Kurt Asle Arvesen in the under-23 World Championship road race in San Sebastian.

A fresh-faced Oscar Freire in 1998 (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Oscar turned professional in 1998 with Spanish squad Vitalicio Seguros  – the only time he rode for a domestic squad – winning a stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. In 1999, he surprised everyone by winning the world championship in Verona when he was frankly making up the numbers. He spent his prize on an elevator for his grandmother’s apartment rather than replace his modest Opel Corsa.

The following year Oscar joined what was recognised as the best team, Mapei-Quick Step, and won 11 races including two stages in the Vuelta a Espana. He also came third in the world championship. In 2001 he won two races and took the points competition in the Vuelta a Burgos, before becoming world champion for a second time in Lisbon. In 2002 he won his maiden stage in the Tour de France.

In 2003 Freire moved to Rabobank where he was to remain until the end of 2011. In his first season he won six races but it was in 2004 that he was to enjoy some of his greatest triumphs: Milan-San Remo, Trofeo Luis Puig, a stage and runner-up at Tirreno–Adriatico, another stage in the Vuelta a Espana, and his third – and final – World Championship, again in Verona. He started 2005 in fine fettle winning three stages, the points classification and the yellow jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as the Brabantse Pijl, Trofeo Alcudia and Trofeo Mallorca, all before the end of March. His season was then cut short by a saddle sore, a recurring problem throughout his long career.

Oscar: looking good in green (image courtesy of the official race website)

In 2006, Freire won his second consecutive Brabantse Pijl, another stage at Tirreno–Adriatico, a stage at the Tour de Suisse and two stages in the Tour de France before retiring due to illness. He bounced back by winning the Vattenfall Cyclassics before his season was cut short by neck and spinal injuries, forcing him to miss the Vuelta a Espana and World Championships. In 2007, he won a second Milan-San Remo title and three further stages in the Vuelta and in 2008, he won a stage and the green points jersey in the Tour. In the 2009 Tour he was shot in the thigh by an air-rifle on stage 13, in a year where he’d already broken his collarbone and was still plagued with injuries to his back.

In March 2010, he recorded my favourite of his wins in Milan-San Remo where he snuck out of the peloton just before the line to deny Tom Boonen victory. Later that year, Oscar became the first Spaniard to win Paris-Tours becoming the new holder of the ruban jaune for setting the fastest average speed in a Classic, he covered the 233km at an average of 47.7km/h.

In 2011, after racking up stage wins in Ruta del Sol and Tirreno-Adriatico, sinus problems forced him to miss the Tour and abandon the Vuelta. He said that if he didn’t win the World Championships in Copenhagen, he would retire. He didn’t win, but neither did he retire. Rabobank, having taken his statement at face value didn’t offer to renew his contract in a timely fashion and he moved to join the Spanish Armada at Katusha.

Oscar had a promising start with a stage win in the Tour Down Under followed by anotherat Ruta del Sol and top ten placings in a number of the Spring Classics and semi-Classics. Having crashed out at the Tour, as the year wound down he again said that he would prolong his career if he won the rainbow jersey in Valkenburg.

Oscar Freire at the World Championship (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

It’s nice to finish racing here in Valkenburg, where it all started and in a country, Holland, where I’ve spent most of my career [with Rabobank]. It’s a coincidence that I’m here, but there couldn’t be a better way of finishing.

The Spanish team threw their support behind Oscar, who you might remember finished fourth in Amstel Gold, but either his poisson pilote had other ideas or the lack of team radios meant that Oscar was isolated on the final ascent of the Cauberg and teammate Alejandro Valverde finished third in Valkenburg. After a bit of post-race handbags, the two have since kissed and made up.

So as Oscar heads off into the sunset and back to Spain where it all began we wish him health, happiness and much success in whatever he does next. I’m going to leave you with a demonstration of his versatility as a sprinter with those three world championship victories:

Tweets of the week: Revolution, revisionists and the end of the romance

Funny, cruel, odd, personal … you get it all on Twitter. Each week, we’ll have a rundown of some of our favourite tweets. Here are the tweets for the week ending 21nd October 2012, except I put in stuff from 22nd October as well. I’m playin’ it fast and loose, people!

It’s just one damn thing after another these days, isn’t it? Let’s start with Lance.

Le fraudeur

Did I ever mention that I would cross 75 lanes of heavy traffic just to slap Ben Stiller? I would. He’s supremely irritating.

Je ne regrette rien

On Monday, UCI president Pat McQuaid gave us all assurances that doping doesn’t happen in the peloton anymore, mainly because of his constant crusading – helped by anti-doping equipment bought out of donations from doping riders (“I have a subtle and cunning plan! I’ll use their own money to catch them!”), it was a shock that that sort of thing went on in the peloton undetected for so long (um, except everyone knew) and “if you think I’m going to step down, you’ve another thing coming…” Gives you hope for the future, doesn’t it?

Here are some of the reactions to his performance on Monday.

The mental picture of Pat McQuaid leaping into action still makes me laugh out loud.

Vive la Revolution

You may have noticed that all of a sudden your tweetstream is filled with what looks like classical portraits, as you see with UCI_Overlord. Well, these are portraits from the French Revolution – why? Because Overlord, Festinagirl, Velocast, Panache etc, are all calling for a revolution to bring down the old order – as can be seen by this screenshot of Velocast’s landing page. Even Jonathan Vaughters has changed his avatar.

And this tweet from Overlord shows why we need a revolution …

Stripping Lance of his titles and then merrily going down the same road as we’ve been travelling is not going to change our sport for the better. That’s like lobbing off a few branches of a diseased tree but leaving the poisoned root structure. Anyone know Latin?

[I do! It means ‘who guards the guardians?’ – Ed.] There are many ways to get involved. You don’t have to don the red Phrygian cap of the Revolution, you can take Inner Ring‘s advice. But if you do want the sport to change, you have to do something.

I see Cav has drunk the ‘it happened so long ago … nothing to do with us’ Kool-Aid that’s being passed around (as has Tom Boonen, et al). If you don’t examine the past and learn from it, Mark, it repeats itself. Over and over and over again.

David Millar‘s wife offered up a bit of levity to the proceedings yesterday.

Ne me quitte pas

All these Lance and UCI shenanigans pales into insignificance compared to the big news of last week. Forget Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie. Forget Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis calling it a day. This is devastating! Yes, the affair is ended, the bromance is over, Bernie has said “On your bike.” Mark Cavendish is going to Omega Pharma-Quick Step … Bernie Eisel is staying at Sky. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the news broke, not least by our own Tim.

Petit fours

But let’s end this column with some levity … a few choice morsels I’ve collected through the week to amuse and delight after such heavy going. And who better to sprinkle a little sparkle over the proceedings than that boy Hollywood Phinney?

Ivan Basso won the Japan Cup last week. I didn’t even realise there was such a thing. But there is. I just liked this picture. Oh, and I really like his avatar – really cool!

A little Jens humour:

The mighty Greg Henderson is making the most of his off-season! Bottoms up!

And Koen de Kort is going to grow a moustache! For a good cause, of course – let’s see how much money we can help him raise, shall we? Once Koen gets his charity page sorted out, we’ll give you the link for it!

In the ‘what the f*** are you wearing?’ category …

And last but not least, a goddess among women – especially in Overlord’s eyes – but also in ours. Bridie O’Donnell has been shopping – doesn’t she look fabulous???

While we’re trying to revive Overlord, we’ll leave you for another week. But remember – cycling is a brilliant sport, full of passion and grit and beauty. Don’t give up on it – and don’t let idiots ruin it. Stand up for your sport in any way you can. If you don’t, we might not have much of a sport left.