Cycling: Spanish veteran Freire bursts through to snatch long-overdue sprint classic

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Oscar Freire corrected a cycling oddity when he became the first Spaniard to win the Paris-Tours classic yesterday.

The race, often described as a world championship for sprinters, has been held since 1896 and it was only fitting for the three-times world champion, probably his country's greatest sprinter, to set the record straight.

"I came here many years with a good chance but there was always a winning break. Only twice did I reach Tours for a mass sprint and I lost. I was third time lucky," Freire said.

The 34-year-old Spaniard surged to the line to upstage Italy's Angelo Furlan and Belgium's Gert Steegmans and snatch his 68th career victory. It was a fine consolation for the Rabobank rider, who started the season ideally by winning Milan-San Remo for the third time before waning. Freire failed to win a stage in the Tour de France and in his home race, the Vuelta, and was especially disappointed after finishing sixth in the recent world championships in Melbourne.

The world champion in 1999, 2001 and 2004, has since been trying to become the first man to take four titles, a goal he missed again a week ago, blaming wrong team tactics. "I know I had a chance in this race. It's an ideal race for me," he said. "The conditions were okay and I tried to stay in the front because there were a lot of attacks. But we controlled the race and I won."