An interview with Oscar Pereiro, June 26, 2007
With Floyd Landis' disciplinary procedures pending, Oscar Pereiro could well be the winner of the 2006 Tour de France. Whether he is or not, Pereiro told Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet he doesn't see himself as a hot favourite for this year's victory.
Oscar Pereiro isn't exactly a rider for the early part of the season. He collected his first result for the year when he came second on the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré's final stage, keeping his identity of a rider who starts in silence but comes home with a bang. For the past three Tour de Frances he's been the best rider of the third week.
Pereiro was happy on the finishing line of Annecy, although he had struggled to keep the wheels when the race was at a high tempo. "I got dropped in the final climb of La Forclaz," he confessed. "I came across in the downhill and flat sections afterwards and I attacked as soon as I caught the group but [Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif] Eusebio [Unzue] told me that Vinokourov was gone and alone ahead already. It was impossible to go and catch him, so I decided to wait for the sprint."
The Spaniard looked really happy with himself at the Dauphiné Libéré, a typical precursor to the Tour de France. "Coming second on that stage is very important for my motivation before the Tour de France," explained Pereiro. "I've proven to myself that I'm on the right path. I finish the Dauphiné with satisfaction. I'm feeling good, even though it's obvious that I still need to work. Most of all, I have to lose another two kilograms before going to London."
"I will never be able to ride up and down the Champs-Elysées with the yellow jersey." -Win or lose, Oscar Pereiro laments the drama around last year's Tour
In order to be better prepared for the month of July this season, Pereiro employed a new early season tactic - he complete skipped it. "With the crazy month of August that I experienced last year," he started, "particularly with all the requests I got in my region of Galicia from all these people who regarded me as the winner of the Tour de France, it's like I had ridden three Grand Tours in three months because I did the Vuelta as well in support of Alejandro Valverde. I was really exhausted after that."
The status of Pereiro has radically changed after the 2006 Tour de France. He showed his pride when he announced himself as a contender after his big effort in the Pyrénées. "Now, there won't be any breakaway without myself in it," he declared at the time. It worked on the way to Montélimar, but Pereiro isn't only the lucky guy who was generously given half an hour bonus by the leading teams, he is also the rider who came third on the grueling stage to La Toussuire. There, Michael Rasmussen took victory after climbing the Galibier, la Croix-de-Fer and the col du Mollard, a grand total of 90 kilometers of climbing a single day.
Just 12 months earlier Pereiro was the winner of the last mountain stage to Pau - comprising the col d'Aubisque. Before joining Caisse d'Epargne Pereiro made the Tour's top 10 on general classification overall twice under the colours of Phonak. In fact, of the three times the 29 year-old has contested the Grand Tour his worst results was 10th place in 2004 edition with Phonak.
In the eyes of the general public, compiling valuable results doesn't count compare to winning the Tour de France. When Floyd Landis' positive sample was announced four days after the finish in Paris last year, Pereiro's first feeling was a message of solidarity for his former Phonak teammate. "I'd rather stay second," he said. Later, he discovered a new way of life - the one of a hero who initiated the revival of Spanish pride just like Pedro Delgado almost 20 years before. Pereiro has been told so many times that he deserves to be the winner of the 2006 Tour de France that has ended up agreeing with it.
"I have felt a kind of anger because I've had something great taken away," he said during the Vuelta last year, and his position hasn't changed on the matter. "I never say that I'm the winner of the 2006 Tour de France. I can't make a photo with the yellow jersey. My sponsors can't use me as the winner for promotion. This debate has lasted too long already.
"It's been almost a year now," continued Pereiro. "If one day the UCI decides to give me the win, okay, I'll be happy to take it but I will never be able to ride up and down the Champs-Elysées with the yellow jersey. For a while, it has bothered me a lot, but now I don't focus on the procedures and the if or maybe…"
Whatever the turnout of last year's official results, the end outcome is likely to be bitter-sweet for Pereiro, but he has turned over a new leaf. "I wouldn't say Floyd was a friend but a team-mate I had good relationship with," he told Le Dauphiné last week. "We got on well when racing together. After the announcement of his positive case, I left a message on his cell phone, he never rang me back."
"What counts for me now is the 2007 Tour de France," the Galician insisted. "I focus on my training. I want to be fit for doing a good job for my team. I'll have no problem riding for Valverde, as I did in the Vuelta, if I have to do it. My personal aim is to make the top five. I don't think I can win the Tour against the likes of Vinokourov, Kashechkin and the other favourites. I don't think I'll be allowed to get a large advance anymore. I'll be watched out more than last year. For me, the most important is to be an actor in the race."
Ironically, Pereiro was described as the 'star of Hollywood' by his French team-mate Florent Brard during the Tour last year and he's even more of a star now. But Pereiro knows he is a controversial one, probably because he was a member of the Phonak team before the clean up that John Lelangue started with a great ambition, but didn't achieve. Pereiro was also at the centre of a controversy in January due to the Therapeutic Use Exemption he's got for asthma medication salbutamol. He didn't pay attention to answering the letters from the French anti-doping agency, which affected his credibility - although his late explanations were accepted.
He was also rumoured to be a part of Operación Puerto in November, accusations which again came out during the Giro d'Italia. "But this is totally false," he declared. "It seems like anyone feels he's allowed to allege anything. I'd really like this Operación Puerto to finish. But it's up to the justice to take the conclusions, not to the medias."
The runner up of the 2006 Tour de France will turn 30 on August 3 - the week after the conclusion of this year's race. By then Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro would like to be known for something else than might-be-the-winner of 2006.