Jean-Christophe Péraud of Omega Pharma-Lotto is back in the game for a shot overall classification of the Vuelta a España as the first big mountian finish in the Pyrenees looms on the horizon. The Frenchman is now fifth overall, 54 seconds behind Joaquin Rodriguez of Team Katusha.
He had been virtually the race leader with less than 10 kilometres to race on stage nine but Igor Antón's Euskaltel-Euskadi team rode intelligently to save the red jersey that day and spoil Péraud's celebrations.
"The day before, all my ambition to perform on general classification were gone and suddenly, I was back well positioned as I hoped before coming to the Vuelta," the 33-year-old former mountian bike rider and neo-pro road racer told Cyclingnews in Tarragona.
"I'm surprised but I'm nicely surprised, I'd say," he added. "On day one I suffered from the heat but after one week of racing, I still feel good. I didn't know what to expect for my first grand tour. My disappointment of Sunday is behind me but it would have been fantastic to wear the leader's jersey in a grand tour."
Péraud was supposed to ride the Tour de France but he crashed at the Critérium du Dauphiné and came down with blood poisoning soon after. Omega Pharma-Lotto was unable to ride the French national championships and he admitted that he hadn't recovered in time to line up for the Tour de France.
"I'm afraid it'll take a long time for me to get back to my best level," said the former mountain biker who managed to make the top ten overall at Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Basque country during his debut season as a pro road rider.
"The level here is very high," he said of the Vuelta. "The other riders have given me a gift by letting me back in the top positions of the general classification. Now the Omega Pharma-Lotto team will work for me to get a good ranking overall in Madrid. I'll hold on with the best climbers as much as I can."
"I'd also like to win a race in my first year as pro road cyclist, it would be really nice," added the Frenchman, who is rumoured to have been courted by other teams despite having a two-year contract with the Belgian team. After Péraud's brilliant ride at the Vuelta, Omega Pharma-Lotto's team manager Marc Sergeant has made it clear that he wants to keep him for next year.