By Jean-François Quénet in Montélimar
Now with French bank Caisse d'Épargne as a title sponsor, the former Illes Balears team came to the Tour de France with the intention of taking the yellow jersey, just as in Banesto's good old days with Miguel Indurain. Their historical team manager, José Miguel Echevarri, was almost in tears in the media bus when he realized that Oscar Pereiro would become the new leader of the Tour de France.
Their two French riders Florent Brard and Nicolas Portal didn't believe their eyes when they crossed the line half an hour after their captain. "I never rode for a big leader before and I came to the Tour with the dream of racing with the yellow jersey on my wheel," Portal had declared in Valkenburg when he was sad because of Alejandro Valverde's crash. That day, Echevarri stated, "Our building is down but we still have the support beams and other GC riders to work for." He didn't state any name but he was clearly referring to Pereiro who came 10th in the Tour last year.
"I'm very proud of what Oscar did today, Portal said after the finish. It's a relief for us. After Valverde's crash, we put our hopes onto Oscar (Pereiro) and Vladimir (Karpets)." Brard added. "Oscar was known for having one bad day in a three-weeks race. He had it in the col de Portillon, but after that stage to Pla de Beret, he told us, "Now there will not be a breakaway without me." He almost made it yesterday. Today, he was so up for it that he started the stage on the first row. He deserves what's happening. He's a hard worker.
"Oscar always smiles and jokes, he's happy to do this job, he's a real Spaniard," Portal reckoned. Brard didn't fully agree with that comment: "Oscar is the only Spanish rider I meet at breakfast, everyone else wakes up too late. I'm happy for him to be in yellow now. It's a big surprise, just as big as our disappointment when we lost Valverde. He's a Hollywood star. He's the guy who struts. He's highly motivated. Now it'll be interesting to see what happens in the Alps. There's no longer Lance Armstrong to rule the race. It's better for the spectacle."