By Shane Stokes
Although his training at this week's Caisse d'Epargne training camp has been disrupted due to a bad cold, Oscar Pereiro has said he is satisfied with his fitness level at this time of the season. "I have done some good training," he told Cyclingnews this week. "My condition is not 100 percent, but it is better than this time last season. That winter, I worked too much in the gym. I am happy this year with my condition."
Like his teammate Alejandro Valverde, Pereiro is due to begin his season in the Trofeo Mallorca on Sunday, the first stage of the Challenge Mallorca races. "It's very early in the season for me but I'm supposed to do the first race, to be there for the TV cameras," he said. "I've been sick so I think I may just do the first two or three laps... I'll see how it goes."
After that, he will have a programme of stage races as he builds form towards July. He will next line out in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, which runs from March 26-30, then compete in the GP Miguel Indurain (April 7), the Klasika Primavera (April 15) and the Vuelta Ciclista a Aragon, from April 18-22. The next month will see him ride the Tour de Romandie (May 1-6) and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (May 21-27), before his final tuneup in the Dauphiné Libéré, running from June 10-17.
"Alejandro is the leader for the Classics and the Tour. And I will be for the Tour and the Vuelta," he says. "The Tour is my big goal. But I would like to win one race before that. Not Catalunya or the Dauphiné, not the overall, but a stage. I want to see that I am strong before the Tour starts."
While Pereiro will be declared 2006 Tour de France winner if Floyd Landis is proclaimed guilty after his May 14 hearing with the USADA, he doesn't see himself in the first rank of favourites for this season. "I don't think I am one of the very top contenders. I know that I am not in the first list of favourites, but in the second list. The first list is made up of riders such as Ivan Basso and Vinokourov, but I'm in the group that could win the Tour under certain circumstances.
"I think there are some big contenders to win the Tour, and then the hopefuls. I am in this group of outsiders. Why? Because Pereiro was not only second in the Tour of 2006... I was 10th in 2005, I was 10th in 2004. Last year, 2006, five riders were missing - Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso, Vinokourov and Mancebo were not in the race. Normally I would be behind them, but those riders were missing."
Alejandro Valverde has also played down his chances somewhat, telling Cyclingnews that he would be satisfied with a place in the top five this year before going all out to win in 2008. He will turn 27 shortly before the Tour and knows that his youth and lack of Tour experience may go against him somewhat. He has yet to reach Paris after pulling out of the 2005 and 2006 editions of the Tour due to injury.
However, one thing that works in their favours is the fact that they are both Caisse d'Epargne riders. "It is good, there is less pressure on each of us because we are both riding in the same team," Pereiro stated. "Also, my team doesn't put pressure on me to win the Tour. They want me to do my job, to ride well, to be a good co-leader to Alejandro Valverde. I don't feel more pressure from them than last year. Perhaps it is higher from the press, the public and from myself, too, but it is not much more than before."
A full interview with Oscar Pereiro will appear soon on Cyclingnews. This will include his comments on the recent Le Monde allegations, on his attitude towards Floyd Landis' positive test from last year's Tour and why he is particularly motivated to ride well this September.