By Greg Johnson
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme proudly declared Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro the 2006 Tour de France victor in an official ceremony in Spain overnight. Some 14 months after the event's running and 1274 kilometres from the Champs-Elysees, where the five other Spanish Tour winners were crowned, at the Upper Counsel of Sports in Madrid, Spain, Pereiro was awarded the sport's most prestigious race win after being officially declared the event's winner by the UCI on September 21 following Floyd Landis' (Phonak) losing his appeal to the American Arbitration Association to overturn the sanction for his positive drug test on Stage 17 of the event.
"Finally, we have a winner and it's Oscar," declared Prudhomme to AP. "Oscar, you have won the Tour out on the road."
"I have the feeling of arriving at the end of a thriller, after having spent 14 months thinking about it and not being able to concentrate as I should have on my job," responded Pereiro. "It is essentially a kind of release."
While the 'official' crowning of Pereiro as the 2006 winner should be the closing of a turbulent chapter in the Tour's history books, the story's final paragraphs are yet to be played out. Just 24 hours after Tour organiser Amaury Sports Organisation announced the official handing over of the yellow jersey last Wednesday, Landis announced he would exercise his right to take his case to the final stage of appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Despite Landis pressing ahead with his case, which could see the Tour victory handed back to the American depending on the CAS ruling, ASO decided to push ahead with plans to give Pereiro the jersey following the UCI recognizing him as the winner. CAS is expected to make its ruling on the case around mid-February 2008.
"The international federation said two weeks ago the winner or the 2006 Tour is Oscar Pereiro, and the UCI is the federation that decides the classification," noted Prudhomme. "The moment the international federation said the winner was Oscar, it was clear.
"He's a late winner, but he's a real winner," Prudhomme added.
While Pereiro was delighted with what finality he could take away from the ceremony, he confessed to regretting what he has missed out on due to the events that have transpired. "These emotions, it is impossible to feel them in a ceremony like this one, which is organized so that everyone understands and sees that Oscar Pereiro is the winner of the Tour," Pereiro said. "The moment I received the profit of my work, I had mixed feelings, something between satisfaction and regret for what we were deprived of."
Born in Galicia, Spain on August 3 1977, Pereiro joins countryman Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocana, Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain and 2007 victor Alberto Contador as the only Spaniards to conquer the French race in its 105 year history.