Three times World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has said the prospect of the return of Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) for a second year running to the Vuelta, which starts this Saturday in Benidorm, is not exactly something Freire relishes.

The reason? Cavendish is too good at his job.

“Is it good or bad for you that Cavendish is present? ” the three-times World Champion was asked in a long interview with Spanish sports daily OAS’ on Monday.

“Bad,” Freire responded, “and it’s not just Cavendish. He’s got a whole squad that knows exactly how to Odrop him off’ with 200 metres to go.”

“If he’s got a line-up anything like the one HTC brought to the Tour, he’s going to be very difficult to beat.”

Even without looking further afield, Cavendish’s track record in Spain alone makes him the odds-on sprint favourite. The Briton won three stages in last year’s Vuelta, as well as the points jersey – his first in a major Tour.

Victory this year even in one Vuelta stage would make Cavendish the first rider since Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) in 2003 to take wins in all three major Tours in the same season, and just the fourth in history to do so.

Curiously enough, Petacchi – who beat Cavendish in a Vuelta stage last year, at Orihuela, close to where the first stage ends this year – is expected to be one of the Briton’s main rivals this August, too. As will Freire.

“There are lots [of sprinters in the 2011 Vuelta],” Freire points out, “[Tom] Boonen (Quick Step), Petacchi, Peter Sagan [Liquigas] and [Marcel] Kittel (Skil-Shimano), this new kid who’s won four stages in the Tour of Poland. He’s a first year pro, isn’t racing in a big team and he goes and does that: he must have something.”

As for veteran Freire, he will be on the hunt for his eighth Vuelta stage win in a long career which effectively started with his first World Championships victory way back in 1999. And although he thinks the third week will be decided in breakaways, not bunch sprints, he is planning to go all the way to Madrid on September 11th.

“There are two weeks between the end of the Vuelta and the World’s, and I didn’t do the Tour. It’ll be good preparation.”

“But it’s a very tough route. Every year they make it harder. I understand that racing in the mountains is spectacular, but it’s more and more difficult for the riders.”

As for Copenhagen, his big objective of the season, Freire told AS he saw the World’s route in the Tour of Denmark and “It’s easier than I thought. There’s just one climb, around 600 or 700 metres long, which ends on the finish line.”

“It’ll only be really tough if it rains. But maybe it’s better that way, because the way [Philippe] Gilbert (Omega-Pharma Lotto) is going, if it was a tough circuit, he’d be impossible to beat.”

“I’ve got a chance. But it’ll be hard, because even if the World’s route is easy, it’s long – 300 kilometres if you include the neutralised section. With 300 kilometres in your legs it’s not easy for anybody to sprint.”

Related links

Vuelta a Espana 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index

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