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World Championships - CM
Verona, Italy, September 27-October 3, 2004
Race 10 - Sunday October 3 : Road Race - Elite Men, 265.5km
Hat-trick for Freire in Verona
Zabel slapped down again; Italy saves face with Paolini's bronze
By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Verona
After a hard-fought battle in Verona, Spaniard Oscar Freire Gomez took his third Elite World Championship title on Corso Porta Nuova in Verona. With his third world title in five years, Freire joins an elite club of now only four riders who have won three World Road Championships: Alfredo Binda (1927-30-32), Rik Van Steenbergen (1949-56-57) and Eddy Merckx (1967-71-74).Verona was the scene of the crime for Freire five years ago when he was the unknown and surprise winner in the previous Verona World's, but today, there was no doubt that Freire was simply the best man in the race. The 28 year-old speed merchant from Torrelavega had impeccable support from his Spanish Armada today; they were a totally focused and extremely strong team that placed five men in the final selection to support Freire. A perfect leadout from teammate Alejandro Valverde set the table for Oscar's winning sprint charge that held off challengers Erik Zabel and Luca Paolini.
Of his hat-trick Sunday, Freire explained post race that, "I think my best (World's) win was still my first World Championships in Verona five years ago. This one is the second best...it's great to race the World Championships here in Italy because all the tifosi really understand cycling. The race went really well for the Spanish team; we were always in front and I think Italy raced well too. But in the end, Spain had some luck. Bettini had that wheel change at a bad time...Our secret on the Spanish team is that we ride together. A guy like Valverde could have won today, but he rode an exceptional sprint for me. I asked him to help me in the final and I have to dedicate this win not only to the Spanish team but to Valverde too."
Runner-up to Freire for the silver medal was German Erik Zabel. Still riding strongly at 34, Zabel broke into tears after he crossed the finish line today when he realised he had been beaten for the second time this season in Italy by Freire. Just over six months ago, Freire just nipped Zabel at the line in Milano-Sanremo, denying him a fifth La Primavera title, but today, the Spaniard came off teammate Valverde's wheel to clearly best the German. Although he was emotionally disappointed after he crossed the finish line, Zabel bucked up in time for the press conference, where he declared that "Yeah, I was disappointed with second, but now I'm happy about it."
Italian Luca Paolini was the bronze medal winner ahead of the two Australians in the front group, Stuart O'Grady (4th) and Alby Davis (5th). Two out of the top five could be considered a good result for the land Down Under, but there were mitigating circumstances that likely kept Davis off the podium. The overhead replay of the sprint shows that Davis was coming by Paolini on his left, fast enough to take at least a bronze medal, when the Italian aggressively elbowed him and intentionally impeded the Australian's progress. This denied Davis at least a bronze medal, but the officials didn't relegate Paolini despite what looked to be a breach of the rules. After the World's, a visibly upset Davis told Cyclingnews that, "It [the Paolini elbow] was clear, I thought...if you look at it on TV, it's clear that I could have gotten at least third, but that's bike racing."
A typically ebullient Chris Horner (8th) explained to Cyclingnews in Verona after the tough 265km race that, "I feel great. It's just that my legs were cramping because I haven't raced...I've only done one race (T-Mobile International) in seven weeks." Horner explained the race strategy that saw him make all the key selections today, saying, "I stayed at the back all day until nine laps to go (halfway point) and then I moved up. The guys on the team were great; they really looked after me today. Then it was just a matter of holding the wheels going up the climbs."
As opposed to last year's Worlds in Hamilton, where Horner was the strongest American but didn't have a clearly defined role, this year was different. USA Cycling team manager in Verona and Horner's former director on Team Saturn Tom Schuler told Horner that, "I was one of the leaders of the team, so I didn't have to do anything but make the final move."
In the final sprint, Horner ended up eighth, for the best Worlds finish by an U.S. rider since 1999 when Chann McRae was fifth in Verona. "I was on Freire's wheel coming out of the last corner (with 600m to go) and he started to do the typical sprinter stuff, swerving this way and that way," explained Horner. "My (54x11) started skipping and I had it spun out pretty good. I probably needed another bigger gear."
After a promising Worlds last year in Hamilton, today's race was total confirmation for the soon to be 33 year old who calls Bend, Oregon home. "Today is a fantastic result for me; I wanted top five, but I'll take eighth. Last year in Hamilton, I had better legs, though - I felt much better the whole race. But it's good to come back to the World Championship and show I can ride at a world class level and I'm looking forward to next year."
Now in the prime of his cycling career, Horner is likely to sign a contract with Saunier Duval-Prodir for 2005; the freckle-face rider told Cyclingnews that "I've been trying to get on a Division One team again for a long time and finally Gianetti (Horner's former Francaise de Jeux teammate Mauro Gianetti, now Saunier Duval-Prodir manager) offered me a contract."
Italian CT Franco Ballerini's race strategy went into tilt halfway when Paolo Bettini hurt his knee after banging it on the team car door when he got a front wheel change. The Squadra Azzurra then rode for local man and '04 Giro winner Damiano Cunego, but the Italian was just behind Horner in ninth. Cunego explained after the race that, "Maybe we should have gone harder earlier on to get rid of some of the sprinters, but the race just went the way it went...for Italy, when we lost our leader Bettini, unfortunately that changed our plans and the race took on another face. Spain started to work for Freire and even though Ivan (Basso) and I tried, we just couldn't make a difference."
Cunego's teammate, Italian Champion Cristian Moreni, who finished in the main chase group of 40, 4'26 behind Freire, told Cyclingnews that, "Even third place is a good result for Italy. We tried to deal with the situation after Bettini hurt his knee and be up there with the best riders at the end. We knew that Freire and Zabel would be the most dangerous and in the end, we showed we were up there."
How it unfolded
There was a big red sun bathing the Verona hills as another hazy fall day dawned Sunday, but it wasn't just any day - it was the 265.5km Elite Men's Road Race World Championships. The first attack of the day was on the first ascent of the Torricelle climb when Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel showed his panache and courage by going away from the group. Since he was the only one foolish enough to give it a go so early, the other riders let him go and he gained time even though he almost crashed on his second descent. Brazilian sprinter Luca Pagliarini went away solo in pursuit of Le Mevel before Russian rider Vladimir Efimkin bridged to Pagliarini, then up to the Frenchman, leaving the Brazilian behind. Efimkin rides for Italian Elite team Pragma ADV and is known as a good climber.
The Franco-Russian duo kept increasing its lead and my mid-race after nine laps, they had a gap of over 7'00, but things began to change in the World Championships. Spain's Eladio Jimenez went away from the group and this provoked various counter-attacks. Finally, Italian Luca Mazzanti made his move and a big split of 30 riders happened off the front, including five Spanish riders (Horrillo, Jimenez, Zaballa, Luis Perez, Nozal), four Italians (Mazzanti, Frigo, Petito, Pellizotti), three Americans (Baldwin, McCartney, Trenti), plus Pugaci, Popovych, Calzati, Fothen, Subido, Vitorino, Moerenhout, Van Summeren, Van Goolen, Duque, Ardila, Scott Davis, Fofonov and Vainsteins.
With seven laps to go, the duo were still ahead of the big chase group, but they were just 0'20 behind and closing. The front riders sat up and let the chase catch them after 165km, while the peloton, led by Italy's Nardello, was 1'40 behind. But this group was just too big and dangerous to last and the Italian team made the big effort to bring the break back and the junction was made towards the end of lap 12. Italian captain Paolo Bettini was having problems: he had two front wheel changes and his right knee began hurting as he cracked it hard on the open car door. Four riders from the Squadra Azzurra were with Bettini, leaving the front of the race open to attacks. Inevitably, there was an attack and it was by Swiss rider Steve Zampieri, who was joined by young French rider Calzati.
With 12 laps raced, six laps and 90 km to go, there were now five riders in front: Dane Frank Høj had bridged across to Zampieri and Calzati, as well as Huzarski (Pol) and Moerenhout (Ned). Meanwhile, the drama of Paolo Bettini continued as the Olympic champion continued to hang on the back of the peloton. His knee continued to ache and he seemed to be in considerable pain.
After five hours and 191km of racing, the front five had established 0'50 on Ukrainian chaser Kostyuk, with T-Mobile winner, Canadian Charles Dionne trying to bridge at 2'20 and the peloton at 2'50. With 65km to go, Bettini was just hanging on at the back up the Torricelle, talking with Italian coach Ballerini. At the summit of the Torricelle, the chase pace had increased under the impulsion of Spain and the gap between the break and the peloton was now down to 2'05, with Kostyuk caught in between. Dionne had been reeled in as the group had upped the pace. As the crucial last phase began, with four laps to go, the breakaway was 1'35 ahead of Kostyuk, with Italian Roberto Petito on the front of the peloton at 2'10. The first victim of the Squadra Azzurra's speed was Kostyuk, who was caught at the base of the Torricelle and then it was Paolo Bettini's turn, as the Olympic gold medalist dropped off on the pace and was on his way to abandoning at the team box.
As Daniele Nardello pounded away on the front, it was clear that Italy's strategy had changed. With Bettini out of the action, Ballerini had decided to bet the farm on local lad Damiano Cunego. The surprise winner of the 2004 Giro d'Italia winner, who was Junior World Champ in Verona five years ago was now the main man for the Squadra Azzurra. With three laps to go, the riders had raced 221km and the break of five had a gap of only 1'05". The average speed was a slow 37.55 km/h and Neil Stephens, Australian team manager realized that this was the time to put his men on the front as they joined the Italians and Spanish on the front. Zampieri attacked the rest of the break and only Moerenhout could get across. The rest of the break was reeled in with Mick Rogers pounding away on the front. After sixteen times up the Torricelle, at the summit Zampieri and Moerenhout had been caught.
The battle between Italy and Spain began to heat up. The Iberians wanted to try and keep things together for sprinters Freire and Valverde, so Swiss rider Patrick Calcagni decided to take advantage of the situation by counter-attacking. He got a good gap on the descent and at the base of the twisty downhill back into Verona, Calcagni had a gap of 0'20 at the team boxes as the peloton took its feed. The heat, humidity and distance had taken its toll as there were now 60 riders left in the main group.
As the penultimate lap started, Calcagni was riding hard alone in the lead. Three Spanish riders were on the front chasing 0'25 behind. After 236 km raced, with 29 km still to go, the average speed was a slow 37.60 km/h. Italian Stefano Garzelli stopped in the pits after 238km, as the Spanish then put three men on the front in pursuit of Calcagni. The Swiss rider was caught 1km into the penultimate climb of Torricelle. Luis Perez (Spa) was riding hard tempo and then Bertagnolli made a hard attack that split the group in two. Perez continued his action until the last kilometre of the climb when Ivan Basso attacked hard in a huge gear and gapped the front group. This was the key move of the race so far and Basso kept going hard over the top. Dutchman Michael Boogerd got across to Basso, but with the strong Spanish team determined to keep the race together, their move was doomed.
Six Spanish riders were on the front the remaining group of 25 riders, including Perez, Serrano, Mancebo, Freire, Valverde and Nozal, but last year's World Champ Astarloa didn't make the split. Zabel, Kessler, Hondo and Wesemann were there for Germany, as well as Aussie O'Grady, Kazakhstan's Alex Vinokourov, Italians Cunego, Basso, Bertagnolli, Paolini and Frigo, American Chris Horner, Luxembourger Frank Schleck, Dutchmen Michael Boogerd and Karsten Kroon, Dane Michael Rasmussen and Colombians Mauricio Ardila and Ivan Parra Pinto.
As the final lap started, the red and yellow jerseys of Spain were lined out on the front. The 17th lap had been ridden at 42 km/h - by far the fastest yet - and it was clear that no-one was going to rejoin the front group. Michael "Chicken" Rasmussen decided to attack and he flew the coop halfway up the final ascent of Torricelle. Spain sent Serrano to chase down the lanky Danish rider as suddenly Boogerd countered and caught and passed Rasmussen. Freire got across and it looked like the winning break in this year's Elite World Championship had formed.
Over the top of the Torricelle for the final time, Basso and Cunego were there for Italy, with Freire and Valverde for Spain, and Boogerd and O'Grady. Vinokourov was chasing with Rasmussen, but halfway down the descent, most of the rest of the original group had caught back on, including the Germans with Zabel, Hondo and Wesemann, the four other Spaniards, Vinokourov, Horner, Schleck, Davis and Paolini. Wesemann went to the front and began to wind up the pace to prevent attacks for his sprinters Zabel and Hondo. Vino made a tentative move with 1.5km to go, but his move was covered immediately and it was all together under the 1 km flamme rouge. Danilo Hondo (Ger) hit out early but his leadout for Zabel was lost, as Zabel was glued to Freire's wheel. Valverde then wound it up for Freire, who exploded off his teammate's wheel with 100m to race to win his third rainbow jersey in five years.
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by Roberto Bettini
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Mitch Friedman Photography
Images by Chris Baldwin
1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain) 6.57.15 (38.179 km/h) 2 Erik Zabel (Germany) 3 Luca Paolini (Italy) 4 Stuart O'Grady (Australia) 5 Allan Davis (Australia) 6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain) 7 Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) 8 Chris Horner (USA) 9 Damiano Cunego (Italy) 10 Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) 11 Ivan Basso (Italy) 12 Francisco Mancebo Perez (Spain) 13 Michael Rasmussen (Denmark) 14 Danilo Hondo (Germany) 15 Marcos Antonio Serrano Rodriguez (Spain) 16 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) 0.05 17 Luis Perez Rodriguez (Spain) 0.09 18 Steffen Wesemann (Germany) 0.26 19 Matthias Kessler (Germany) 0.58 20 Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) 1.39 21 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Colombia) 22 Dario Frigo (Italy) 1.41 23 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Italy) 24 Ivan Ramiro Parra Pinto (Colombia) 3.09 25 Dmitri Konyshev (Russia) 4.26 26 Martin Elmiger (Switzerland) 27 Erki Pütsep (Estonia) 28 Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukraine) 29 Peter Van Petegem (Belgium) 30 Uros Murn (Slovenia) 31 Geert Verheyen (Belgium) 32 Pineau Jérôme (France) 33 Fabian Wegmann (Germany) 34 Cezary Zamana (Poland) 35 Grégory Rast (Switzerland) 36 Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez (Colombia) 37 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) 38 Roger Beuchat (Switzerland) 39 Nicki Sorensen (Denmark) 40 Alexandre Botcharov (Russia) 41 Harald Morscher (Austria) 42 Matej Mugerli (Slovenia) 43 Daniel Schnider (Switzerland) 44 Ruslan Ivanov (Moldova) 45 Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Spain) 46 David Moncoutie (France) 47 Freddy Excelino Gonzalez Martinez (Colombia) 48 Nicolas Vogondy (France) 49 Igor Pugaci (Moldova) 50 David O'Loughlin (Ireland) 51 Serge Baguet (Belgium) 52 Johan Van Summeren (Belgium) 53 Peter Luttenberger (Austria) 54 Alexandre Bazhenov (Russia) 55 Volodymir Gustov (Ukraine) 56 Ondrej Sosenka (Czech Republic) 57 Tomas Konecny (Czech Republic) 58 Jure Golcer (Slovenia) 59 Luca Mazzanti (Italy) 60 Fabian Jeker (Switzerland) 61 Romans Vainsteins (Latvia) 62 Cristian Moreni (Italy) 63 Isidro Nozal Vega (Spain) 4.34 64 Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Spain) 65 Franco Pellizotti (Italy) 66 Rolf Aldag (Germany) 67 Daniele Nardello (Italy) 68 Christophe Rinero (France) 6.23 69 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spain) 70 Vladimir Goussev (Russia) 71 Steve Zampieri (Switzerland) 72 Vladimir Duma (Ukraine) 73 Marius Sabaliauskas (Lithuania) 8.06 74 David Mc Cann (Ireland) 9.54 75 Eric Leblacher (France) 76 Pedro Cardoso (Portugal) 77 Mateusz Mroz (Poland) 78 Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden) 79 Guido Trenti (USA) 80 Patrick Calcagni (Switzerland) 81 Michael Rogers (Australia) 82 Bram Tankink (Netherlands) 83 Nico Sijmens (Belgium) 9.57 84 Nick Nuyens (Belgium) 85 Frank Hoj (Denmark) 10.30 86 Matej Jurco (Slovakia) 28.45 87 Charles Dionne (Canada) 88 Morten Hegreberg (Norway) DNF Erik Dekker (Netherlands) DNF Gerben Löwik (Netherlands) DNF Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands) DNF Stephan Schreck (Germany) DNF Cadel Evans (Australia) DNF Nelson Vitorino (Portugal) DNF Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan) DNF José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spain) DNF Wim Van Huffel (Belgium) DNF Stefano Garzelli (Italy) DNF Jan Boven (Netherlands) DNF Maarten Den Bakker (Netherlands) DNF Marc Lotz (Netherlands) DNF Pieter Weening (Netherlands) DNF Simon Gerrans (Australia) DNF Luke Roberts (Australia) DNF Matthew White (Australia) DNF Michael Albasini (Switzerland) DNF Marcus Zberg (Switzerland) DNF Mikhail Timochine (Russia) DNF Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus) DNF Gerhard Trampusch (Austria) DNF Laurent Brochard (France) DNF Sylvain Calzati (France) DNF Nuno Alves (Portugal) DNF Helder Miranda (Portugal) DNF Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) DNF Sebastian Skiba (Poland) DNF Raimondas Rumsas (Lithuania) DNF Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) DNF Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium) DNF Paolo Bettini (Italy) DNF Roberto Petito (Italy) DNF Ronny Scholz (Germany) DNF Christian Werner (Germany) DNF Scott Davis (Australia) DNF Mathew Hayman (Australia) DNF Marcel Strauss (Switzerland) DNF Johann Tschopp (Switzerland) DNF Andrey Kluyev (Russia) DNF Christopher Baldwin (USA) DNF Michael Creed (USA) DNF Tom Danielson (USA) DNF Christian Vandevelde (USA) DNF Leonardo Duque (Colombia) DNF Denys Kostyuk (Ukraine) DNF Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) DNF Hugo Sabido (Portugal) DNF Dmitriy Fofonov (Kazakhstan) DNF Serguei Yakovlev (Kazakhstan) DNF Przemyslaw Niemec (Poland) DNF Marek Rutkiewicz (Poland) DNF Alejandro Borrajo (Argentina) DNF Eladio Jimenez Sanchez (Spain) DNF Markus Fothen (Germany) DNF Sebastian Lang (Germany) DNF Cyril Dessel (France) DNF Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Spain) DNF Paul Crake (Australia) DNF Kristjan Fajt (Slovenia) DNF Peter Wrolich (Austria) DNF Volodymyr Bileka (Ukraine) DNF Krzysztof Ciesielski (Poland) DNF Carlström Kjell (Finland) DNF José Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spain) DNF Maxime Monfort (Belgium) DNF Marc Wauters (Belgium) DNF Filippo Simeoni (Italy) DNF Bram De Groot (Netherlands) DNF Thorwald Veneberg (Netherlands) DNF Lars Ytting Bak (Denmark) DNF Michael Blaudzun (Denmark) DNF René Joergensen (Denmark) DNF Michael Skelde (Denmark) DNF Michael Barry (Canada) DNF Stefan Schumacher (Germany) DNF David McPartland (Australia) DNF Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) DNF Alexandr Arekeev (Russia) DNF Vladimir Efimkin (Russia) DNF Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia) DNF Serguei Ivanov (Russia) DNF Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) DNF Oleg Zhukov (Russia) DNF Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA) DNF Jason McCartney (USA) DNF Fred Rodriguez (USA) DNF Christophe Le Mevel (France) DNF Franck Renier (France) DNF Benoît Joachim (Luxembourg) DNF Tom Southam (Great Britain) DNF Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukraine) DNF Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan) DNF Shinri Suzuki (Japan) DNF Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden) DNF Allan Johansen (Denmark) DNF Kirk O'Bee (USA) DNF Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukraine) DNF Jaroslaw Welniak (Poland) DNF Mirko Poldma (Estonia) DNF Tom Boonen (Belgium) DNF Yannick Talabardon (France) DNF Charles Wegelius (Great Britain) DNF Laszlo Garamszegi (Hungary) DNF Mads Kaggestad (Norway) DNF Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mexico) DNF Stefan Adamsson (Sweden) DNF Jonas Ljungblad (Sweden) DNF Sandy Casar (France) DNF Luciano André Pagliarini Mendonca (Brazil) DNF Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia) DNF Murilo Fischer (Brazil)