Unlike the other teams in the race, the Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne team will have two leaders heading into the Vuelta. Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde were both in a relaxed but determined mood at a pre-race press conference head in Málaga's NH Hotel on Friday afternoon.
ProTour leader Valverde comes into the race after a disappointing withdrawal from the Tour de France due to a broken collarbone. However, despite some enforced time off the bike, he showed strong form in the recent Clasica San Sebastián and looks and sounds like he is raring to go. "After the bad luck I had in the Tour I am really motivated at the start of the Vuelta", he told the assembled media. "At the same time I do it with certain tranquillity because I know my season has already been a successful one, thanks to my victories in the classics.
"Tomorrow I will start with the intention of doing well but without too much pressure. I know that our rivals are very strong too and that it will be difficult to win the Vuelta. That said, it is a fact that having such a great team to help me, most of all with a champion like Oscar at my side, is a big advantage compared with our rivals. If they watch him then it will be easier for me to attack and vice-versa."
Pereiro has had what he admits was a stressful buildup, due to the demands of the press after his second place in the Tour de France. With Floyd Landis facing a possible two-year suspension and disqualification from the top podium of the Tour, the Spanish rider could end up as the final winner of the 2006 race. He has consequently been asked to give many interviews on the subject and stated yesterday that in order to help his career and ensure he has enough time to train and rest properly, he will have to learn to be a bit more selective with media requests in the future.
"Personally, I will take the start of the Vuelta hoping to do well but it is a fact that because of the events that took place immediately after the Tour, I did not get the possibility to rest like I would have liked to. But I certainly trained very hard and my feelings right now are not bad at all. I just hope I won't pay the pressure of the last month, and that I can get into the rhythm of the competition straight away."
Perhaps thinking back to previous tensions within teams with two leaders in recent editions of the race, the journalists present were keen to know how the Illes Balears riders would avoid such problems this time round. Both Valverde and Pereiro convincingly played down the talk of possible rivalry, the latter stating that he was tipping the ProTour leader for final honours. "Knowing his motivation, I can tell you that Alejandro is my number one favourite for the final victory in Madrid. We are two team-mates, that's true, but first of all we are very good friends. For that reason, we know that if one of us needs the help of the other then he will get it. That will create no problem at all. We will start with the same possibilities and ambitions but it is the race that will decide who is the strongest one."