TOURS, France – Rabobank’s Oscar Freire became the first Spaniard to win the Paris-Tours one-day classic Sunday when he out sprinted Italy’s Angelo Furlan and Belgian Gert Steegmans at the finish line.
Freire, a former three-time world champion who won Milan-San Remo this year, beat Lampre sprinter Furlan in a furious finish to the 233km classic, with Steegmans, of team RadioShack, two bike lengths behind.
In doing so Freire goes one better than his runner-up place in 2001 and two places better than his third place finishes in 2004 and 2007.
“This time, the conditions were perfect,” said Freire, alluding to losing out on the chance to be crowned a world champion for a record fourth time last week in Australia, where Norway’s Thor Hushovd won the rainbow jersey.
“In recent years I haven’t had my share of luck at Paris-Tours. I’ve never managed to join the right attacks that go all the way.
“That’s why I decided to stay up at the front (of the peloton) today.”
The 233 km race, whose finish was being held on the long home straight of the Grammont Avenue for the last time, was brought to life by an eight-man breakaway which formed after 37km, although their lead hit a maximum of just under four minutes 50km further on.
The favorable wind conditions were exploited to the full by the chasing peloton and as the breakaway’s exertions took their toll the leaders gradually began to peel off the back.
It left Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Sky leading a four-man group but their bid came to an end 15km from the finish when they were reeled in by a four-man counter-attack.
RadioShack’s Geoffroy Lequatre tried to give the hosts a rare home win and after attacking on the climb over Beausoleil he held the chasing pack off for the next 10km.
He held a lead of 18sec going into the 2.6km home straight, but fell victim to the strength in numbers of the sprinters’ teams who reeled him in 400 meters from the finish.
Philippe Gilbert had won the race the past two years, but the Belgian, who admitted to having “highs and lows” during the race, appeared to give up all hope of a daring solo attack.
When Gilbert saw Italian rival Filippo Pozzato on his wheel on the penultimate climb, he virtually slowed to a halt.
After wards Gilbert hit out at the Italian, who — as he demonstrated at the world championships road race last week — is known more for his close marking of rivals than producing attacks of his own.
“That’s the way he races. His specialty is making others lose,” said Gilbert, who won here in 2008 and 2009.
The peloton keeping a watchful eye on the Omega-Pharma ace, they ultimately allowed the race to finish in a bunch sprint.
A number of teams tried to control in the home straight but Freire proved the wiliest, jumping from wheel to wheel, notably Furlan’s in the final 100 metres, to score a memorable win.
“I was on McEwen wheel and he changed direction. I managed to avoid crashing but then I thought it was all over for me,” added Freire.
“But somehow I managed to get back on. It was a good sprint in the end.”
1. Oscar Freire (ESP/RAB) 4hr 52min 54sec,
2. Angelo Furlan (ITA/LAM),
3. Gert Steegmans (BEL/RSH),
4. Klaas Lodewijck (BEL/TSV),
5. Yukiya Arashiro (JPN/BTL),
6. Romain Feillu (FRA/VAC),
7. Yoann Offredo (FRA/FDJ),
8. Wouter Weylandt (BEL/QST),
9. Bernhard Eisel (AUT/THR),
10. Sebastien Chavanel (FRA/FDJ),
11. Robbie McEwen (AUS/KAT),
12. Anthony Ravard (FRA/ALM),
13. Alexandre Pichot (FRA/BTL),
14. Danilo Hondo (GER/LAM),
15. Sepp Vanmarcke (BEL/TSV),
16. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/OLO),
17. Pablo Lastras (ESP/GCE),
18. Fabien Bacquet (FRA/AUB),
19. Roy Curvers (NED/SKS),
20. Cedric Pineau(FRA/RLM) all same time
Selected: 25. Matti Breschel (DEN/SAX) s.t., 42. Daniele Bennati (ITA/LIQ) s.t., 51. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/QST) s.t., 57. Filippo Pozzato (ITA/KAT) s.t., 63. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/OLO) s.t., 71. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) s.t., 136.
Tom Boonen (BEL/QST) 7:15
Selected DNF: Alessandro Ballan (ITA/BMC)