The retired cyclist — who inherited the 2006 Tour de France win following Floyd Landis‘s doping scandal — played an integral part in how things played out Saturday during the final road stage at the Vuelta that saw López abandon in anger with 20km to go and shook up the GC.
Pereiro, who lives in Galicia, designed the climb-riddled stage route featured in stage 20 that ending up dramatically altering the final outcome of the 2021 Vuelta.
“I feel proud,” Pereiro told La Voz de Galicia. “It was a project that had the support from [Vuelta director] Javier Guillén, who gave me the opportunity to realize this experiment.”
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Pereiro, 44, specifically designed a route to set up an ambush or opportunities for attacking, and it certainly played out that way.
With Primož Roglič squeezing the race leader’s red jersey like a vice, Bahrain-Victorious and Ineos Grenadiers both took it to Movistar in a final-hour desperate bid to try to shake loose Enric Mas and López, who started the stage in second and third, respectively.
Pereiro’s project paid off with dividends. Mas held firm to finish Sunday in second overall, but López was isolated, and rivals pounced.
A frustrated and angry López would fight in vain to regain contact with the leading GC group, and once it was obvious he would lose any chance of finishing on the podium, he surprisingly stepped off the bike and quit with about 20km to go despite teammates and sport directors pleading that he continue.
Pereiro, who retired in 2010, was watching with glee.
“I wanted to show that sometimes you don’t need the colossal climbs like the Angliru or the Tourmalet to cause pain,” Pereiro told the daily. “By putting every piece of the puzzle in its place you can really cook up a very hard stage.”
Setting up an ambush that the Vuelta needed
Going into the Vuelta’s final weekend, anyone watching the Spanish grand tour could be forgiven for going into siesta mode throughout much of the race. Though there was action pretty much every stage, the overall GC battle lacked a bit of tension due to the dominance of Roglič and the ever-steady Jumbo-Visma team.
The peloton, however, was bracing for Pereiro’s surprise waiting Saturday.
Pereiro hails from Galicia in Mos, a town near the spectacular “rias baixas”— a string of narrow fiord-like estuaries that featured so prominently in the final weekend.
Pereiro’s biggest claim to fame was inheriting the 2006 yellow jersey after Landis “pulled a Landis,” and then promptly got busted in one of the biggest doping scandals in Tour history. Today, Landis sells CBD in Leadville, and Pereiro, the rider who inherited his yellow jersey, is now a commentator in Spanish media.
After retiring in 2009, Pereiro dabbled in playing semi-pro European football and then migrated toward television. At 44, he’s still trim and trains regularly, and is on the Vuelta podium each stage to present the trophies. Think Bernard Hinault, but with a better tan.
Pereiro’s “trap” came in the form of the 202km stage featuring five rated climbs in the final 100km, setting up ideal ambush country. The stage was also riddled with unrated climbs in the unrelenting hills of Galicia, and there was barely a stretch of flat, straight roads.
“The Vuelta has its ‘script’ and we wanted the penultimate stage to be decisive and to possible change on the podium,” Vuelta director Javier Guillén told AS. “We didn’t want to end with the high mountains, because we were coming off Asturias [Lagos de Covadonga and Gamoniteiru]. That would have been repetitive.”
Anyone looking at the profile in the Vuelta’s road book might have thought the stage was going to be relatively routine; a breakaway, a little skirmish among the GC contenders, and everyone’s happy.
Of course, anyone who’s done the Camino de Santiago or hiked or biked in Galicia knows how steep the hills are in northwest Spain. Pereiro helped design the twisting, diving roads that coiled up to deliver Saturday’s race-changer, and it delivered a real bite.
The Spanish media dubbed it the “Liège de Pereiro,” comparing it to the Belgian monument in the classics, but even that’s deceiving. The roads tilt and grind without end, and coming at the back end of three unrelenting weeks of racing, the stage was set for an explosive denoument.
Pereiro’s gift Saturday was just what the 2021 Vuelta needed.
Bahrain Victorious took up the chase, and the GC changed more Saturday than it had in the entire three weeks. Jack Haig reached grand tour nirvana, Adam Yates climbed into fourth overall, and Gino Mäder bounced to fifth and stole the best young rider’s jersey away from Egan Bernal.
The racing was among the most scintillating of the entire Vuelta.
In today’s peloton, with the level so high, the big differences are often made in time trials or the occasional ambush. Saturday’s stage checked all the boxes.
“You need people who know the product,” Pereiro said. “And the product is sold only thanks to the racers. You can create similar stages all across Galicia.”
López might have been the one caught out — and his angry exit continues to rattle across the peloton — but it was the Vuelta that came out on top.