An interview with Oscar Pereiro, August 31, 2007
Oscar Pereiro has shown great form in the lead up to the second major goal of his season, the 2007 Vuelta a España. In only his first outing since the Tour de France and his last before the Vuelta, He finished just six seconds behind winner, Pierrick Fedrigo in the small four day event the Tour du Limousin in France. With team-mate Alejandro Valverde not taking part in this years event, the humble Spaniard will start the event as the sole leader of the Caisse d'Epargne team with the ambition of wearing the Golden Fleece into Madrid in 21 days time, Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet caught up with him in Limoges after the finish of his final test before returning to Spain.
Old recipes still work in modern cycling. While explaining how Miguel Indurain, who dominated the early 90's with his Banesto team, built the form necessary to take victory in the 1992 Tour of Italy, team manager José Miguel Echavarri said Indurain used "the humility of riding the Circuit de la Sarthe as a preparation for the pink jersey." What he meant was, Indurain used a four-day stage race with little prestige and small fields but nice roads and acceptable organisation in the centre of France to fine tune himself for the bigger and more prestigious event in May.
The Tour du Limousin in August is the equivalent of the Circuit de la Sarthe in April. Its terrain is a bit more undulating than la Sarthe, but that is precisely what attracted Oscar Pereiro to use the race for a pre-Vuelta warm up. "Initially, my plan was to not race at all between the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain, but the Tour du Limousin appeared to me as an opportunity to check out my condition before my big goal of the second part of the season," the Galician explained.
After running the change of heart by his team, the Caisse d'Epargne management was more than happy to offer him something to do. "I asked my team to line me up in a stage race in August and they offered me the Tour du Limousin; I said OK, it sounds good." Much like Indurain avoided the bigger races in the lead up to the Giro, Pereiro reckoned the bigger ProTour races like the Tour of Germany or the Eneco Tour were too long and stressful for a tranquilo build-up to his country's national tour, compared to the small and friendly French race built around the legend of Raymond Poulidor, who is still the race radio commentator of the Tour du Limousin, at age 71.
Pereiro set himself two peaks for this season, the first and most obvious one was in July for the Tour, the second was for September and in particular his national Tour but Pereiro is also thinking of the worlds, he believes that the Stuttgart course should suit him well and has every intention to come out of the Vuelta in good form and contest the championships at the end of a long season. "If I come out of the Vuelta with good form, I'd like to do the Worlds as well," Pereiro added. But for now, he has set his sights on his national Tour. The race begins Saturday, in Vigo, the capital of his region but he added that "As far as I know, there's nothing special organised for me, but of course there will be high expectations from my fans." He's well aware of the higher expectations after his tenth place in the Tour this year, following his second place in 2006.
Or maybe he even won last year's edition, it is yet to be decided whether Floyd Landis will forfeit his yellow jersey from last years Tour to his ex team-mate as the jury is still out, but Pereiro prefers to put aside his feelings of the controversy of the Landis doping scandal and the ongoing legal battle that may see his name appear as the winner of the 2006 Tour in the record books. In fact he really doesn't want to hear about last year's edition of the Grande Boucle anymore. Whether or not he's going to be the winner at the end of Floyd Landis' procedures process doesn't bother him now. "That is the past," he said. "I prefer to focus on the present. I don't pay attention anymore to when the Landis case will be closed. I only think of my career now." During the Tour this July he realised that unlike last year when he was allowed to ride off the front and gain 30 minutes on his rivals, this year he was heavily marked from day one. All his rivals knew from their experience in the previous edition that the Spaniard only seems to get better as the Tour goes on, and none of them wanted history to repeat itself.
Its a pattern that the all rounder follows as the season progresses as well, slowly building form and improving his condition as the season wears on. This season he opted to skip the early season races in an attempt to stay fresh for the Tour and to build form for the Vuelta. It was a strategy that almost backfired at the Dauphiné Libéré when Pereiro's form was down, which prompted his team manager to doubt his place on the Caisse d'Epargne squad for the Tour. "But I rode almost everything since the Tour of Catalunya," defending his seemingly poor form at the time as more a case of not wanting to over work himself before the Tour. "I'll start the Tour of Spain with 60 days of racing in my legs. I'm happy with that. I still have a great motivation for racing."
Pereiro will be Caisse d'Epargne's sole leader for this years Vuelta, Alejandro Valverde has chosen a different approach to building up his form for the Worlds (which he may not be riding after all) by taking part in a one-day race, the GP Plouay on September 2nd, instead of a three-week long Grand Tour leaving Pereiro as team leader, "I'm excited about that," he admitted. "I'll do my best although it'll be the first time for me in that situation." Even though he finished second in the Tour de France last year, for him the undisputed leader in the French three-week race this year was Alejandro Valverde. Now the Spaniard must show that he knows how to lead a team and produce good results while under the additional pressure created by being in the media's focus and the centre of attention.
While racing in France in his build up for the Vuelta at the Tour du Limousin, Pereiro was presented with an opportunity to take the overall on the penultimate stage, in the end he decided it would be much smarter to race conservatively and arrive safely at the start in Spain, rather than take unnecessary risks in the bad conditions, "maybe I could have tried harder to go for the yellow jersey," he explained. "But Pierrick Fedrigo wasn't an easy rider to drop and the final climb was steep but short. Before that, the rain made the roads pretty slippery, so I tried to win but not at any cost."
"I would have liked to win the Tour du Limousin," he admitted, and he believes that his team did all they could on the final stage to wrestle the final overall victory from the grasps of the Bouygues Telecom's boys and cash the winner's check at Caisse d'Epargne. "I actually done my best to win during the final stage. We rode in the front for 60 kilometres in order to make it hard for Bouygues Telecom, then my team-mates Xavier Zandio and Joaquin Rodriguez attacked in the finale. Unfortunately, it didn't work out because the last hill was only 1.5 kilometres long. Fedrigo deserves his win. At least we have tried because for me, any race that Caisse d'Epargne takes part in is something we have to try and win. We also have a French sponsor. It's a very good sponsor and that adds to my motivation to race and win in France. I'm happy to come here. I'm happy with the organisation of the race."
The Spaniard remained humble in defeat and praise his team-mates. It was obvious that the motivation was there to get his French sponsor a victory on French soil, but it just wasn't meant to be.
However, Pereiro concluded that his form is there to have a good finish to the 2007 season and he will try hard to get a great overall ranking in the Tour of Spain, even though he admitted that it will be a tough race, with others having the burden of being favourites. "The most important for me was to enjoy my good condition. It's all good but I won't be the only rider at the Tour of Spain. The competition is expected to be pretty hard with Cadel Evans coming with a strong team totally built around him, but also Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. I'll be the leader of Caisse d'Epargne but I won't be the number one favourite on the start line." There is more to be seen from Pereiro than what happened last year at the Tour de France.
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