By Andrew Hood
There are certain topics that Oscar Pereiro is downright sick and tired of talking about. Top among the list is the ongoing legal struggle of Floyd Landis.
Landis is still awaiting the outcome of his final appeal before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport that could reverse an earlier decision to strip him of his 2006 Tour de France crown following a testosterone positive.
For Pereiro, who was officially recognized by the UCI and by ASO as the winner of the 2006 Tour, he’s finally had enough of the topic.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that,” Pereiro told VeloNews. “For me, that story’s been finished for a long time. I don’t even want to think about that right now.”
Pereiro, 30, is trying to move beyond the tumultuous 2007 season that saw him overwhelmed by the Landis legacy and bedeviled by unproven links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal. German reporters tried without much success to demonstrate that Pereiro was “Urko” on the infamous Puerto list, a charge he angrily denied.
Although he managed to finish 10th in the 2007 Tour, he admits the distractions undermined his motivation to train and race at the level he had grown accustomed to.
For Pereiro, this season is about forgetting last season and getting back to the rider he believes he can still be.
“This year has started totally different for me compared to last year, which was very complicated, difficult and caused me to lose a lot of the motivation I had to train and race and to live for cycling,” Pereiro told journalists in a press conference last week. “This year, I’ve recovered the (motivation) to train and race and do things well.”
Though nagged by bronchitis that forced him to leave early from Paris-Nice and to bypass the Vuelta a Castilla y León in March, Pereiro at least has his head in the right place.
He says he’s enjoying racing again and has rediscovered the necessary motivation and drive to focus on training and preparation rather than being distracted by fiestas and questions revolving around the 2006 Tour.
“I want to be one of the protagonists again at the front of the Tour,” he said. “I’m not going to say a number where I hope to finish, but just that I want to recover my position in the Tour bunch. Since 2004, the Tour has been an obsession for me and I want to return to the level where I can shine on the stage once again.”
Despite being a Tour winner, Pereiro is in an unusual situation that Caisse d’Epargne teammate Alejandro Valverde is the rider of reference for 2008.
Last year, Valverde reached Paris for the first time in three starts and the team believes “Balaverde” can aim for the podium this summer.
Although Pereiro will have his freedom to ride his own race this July, the team is focusing on bringing Valverde in the best form possible to improve on his sixth-place from 2007.
Pereiro says he and Valverde are friends and he doesn’t see a conflict of interests in working to improve on Valverde’s unrealized Tour potential while still pursuing his own goals.
“We will have a very strong team for the Tour and we will have to take some responsibilities. There will be some big names missing, so that’s a big change,” he said. “First of all, I want to help Alejandro, to help the team and then to help myself.”
As much as Pereiro would like to turn the page, old questions are invariably bound to resurface. Valverde continues to be dogged by doubts about alleged links to the Puerto doping scandal, something that irks Pereiro.
“We’re a few months away from the Tour and we all want to talk about sport again in cycling. We don’t want to talk about (doping) without having a reason,” he said. “I’m fed up with some of these stories. It seems some only want to sell stories about doping, but we cannot put wood on the fire when there’s not even a spark.”
Pereiero says it’s time for the sport to move forward.
“I’ve done four Tours, but the past two have been consumed with doping scandal,” he continued. “We’re all hoping for a Tour that’s clean and for a Tour where we can speak about sport. The doping controls have improved dramatically. The biological passport is a strong message. We hope that everyone is conscious that we cannot commit the same mistakes.”
Cycling can only hope so.