Rating the ‘Spanish armada’
Oscar Freire (Katusha): AGR – 5th 2002; FW – 5th 2005; LBL – 11th 2008
It is somewhat surprising that Freire doesn’t have an Amstel Gold Race trophy sitting on his mantelpiece. The Spanish “gato” rode nine years for Rabobank, the Dutch team that lives and breaths for winning Holland’s most important race.
Rabobank nor a Dutch have won since Erik Dekker in 2001, and Freire would have seemed the next in line. But in 2004, organizers moved the finish line from the flats south of Maastricht to the top of the Cauberg, severely handicapping Freire’s chances for victory.
It’s not surprise that his career-best at Amstel Gold came in 2002, before the Cauberg finish line was introduced. Fifth at Flèche Wallonne and 11th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège prove that Freire is in with a shot when he’s on his best form, which the cobbled classics showed he was.
Team: Freire will share leadership duty with Rodríguez and Paolini in a solid Katusha squad.
Pros: A move to Katusha this year has motivated Freire to up the ante and prove his worth to Rabobank brass. With Rodríguez a favorite all week, Freire will be able to play the role of free agent, perhaps opening up some space for him to make a move.
Cons: Slowing down at 36, Freire’s best Ardennes efforts could well be in the rearview mirror.