By Antonio J. Salmerón
Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, finished third in last week-end's Spanish Championships road race, in which the Gold medal went to his team-mate Alejandro Valverde. A good sign for Pereiro's form prior to this year's Tour de France, where he and team captain Valverde will aim for top general classification spots in Paris three weeks from now. "It's an important result for me as well as for my team, which won the race with Alejandro Valverde, our leader for the Tour. It was a a very demanding race, held in high temperatures and with a very competitive line-up. Therefore, our results are even more promising," Pereiro told Cyclingnews earlier this week.
Before leaving to in Brest for the Tour start, the Spaniard was happy with his form. "I think I'm going to the Tour just in the right state of fitness," he commented. "I prefer to get to the start at 70 percent of my form - as to the rest, the competition itself, the passing of days and the kilometres will take care of it..."
His team leader Valverde, having already won the Dauphiné Libéré, seemed to be peaking just a bit too soon before the Grand Tour. But Pereiro brushed the thought away. "Every one has to prepare for the Tour differently. For him, it's very important to assure himself that he is in form, that he won races. And that is good, because whatever happens at the Tour, it's the victories that count in the end. Of course there is some doubtful speculation about how he is going to deal with the third week of the race, but he's matured and he has learned to overcome new goals, like winning the Dauphiné ahead of such important rivals and on a high mountains course."
Pereiro was excited to head into the Tour by Valverde's side. With two GC contenders, team Caisse d'Epargne will play a major role in the race. "I can see many options for him, as I will have mine," he added. "I will work hard for the team, for Valverde as well as for myself, to ensure that we are in front. And if I can win a stage doing that, even better!"
The pair will be most watched in the time trial stages and the high mountains, with the third week most crucial for the final outcome of the Tour. "The third week in the Alps will be very selective, as forces tend to fade by that time. there are less time trial kilometres, but we shouldn't forget the Pyrenean stages like Hautacam," said Pereiro about the key moments of the race, and went on to appoint Caisse d'Epargne's main rivals: "The usual suspects: Evans, Schleck, Sastre, Menchov, Cunego, Zubeldia... Evans will be the number one favourite because of his second place last year. It will all be about staying with them."