Pereiro finds new motivation alongside Contador

Óscar Pereiro was close to retirement just months ago, but says he’s finding new wings with his move to Astana for the 2010 season.

Óscar Pereiro was close to retirement just months ago, but says he’s finding new wings with his move to Astana for the 2010 season.

Pereiro struggled through 2009, abandoned the Tour de France without making much of an impact and almost quit cycling when Caisse d’Epargne refused to pick up his expensive contract.

Pereiro (far right) with (left to right) Astana manager Yvon Sanquer, Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov before a training ride last month. AFP PHOTO / FABIO MUZZI

Astana offered him a lifeline and Pereiro — who won the 2006 Tour following the disqualification of Floyd Landis — says the chance to ride alongside Alberto Contador is providing new inspiration.

“I want to be one of the pillars of this team,” Pereiro said this weekend before his debut at the Tour Down Under. “I feel something special with this new challenge, which for me is to be in a new structure with a big leader like Alberto. It’s these type of challenges that really motivate me.”

Now 32, Pereiro says he’s content on working for a rider like Contador instead of hanging on to the idea that he might be able to win another Tour de France.

“Alberto is the best stage racer right now in cycling and I want to help win another Tour,” Pereiro said. “The objective for the year is to be at the same level of Alberto and serve him well. I have no doubt I can pull it off.”

Pereiro has long played the “joker” role throughout his career, and he was the spoiler at the 2006 Tour when Phonak let him ride away into the yellow jersey midway through the race. Pereiro hung on for second and was later awarded overall victory following Landis’s disqualification.

That belated Tour victory has been a double-edged sword for Pereiro and he’s since had a rough ride.

Pereiro admitted the long delay due to Landis’s legal challenge to the ban left him in limbo and he lost concentration in 2007.

Back in decent shape in 2008, he suffered a horrendous crash off the Col Agnel during Stage 18 at the 2008 Tour. He fell more than 25 feet, broke a femur and suffered other serious injuries. Though he never lost consciousness, many feared for his health and he later tattooed the name of the climb on his arm.

Pereiro struggled with form throughout last year, pulling out of the Tour early and then backing out on a commitment to race the Vuelta a España.

After Caisse d’Epargne balked on re-upping his contract, Pereiro wanted to join his hometown team of Xacobeo-Galicia, but the small Spanish team didn’t have the money to pay a former Tour winner.

Astana came with a late offer and Pereiro happily joined a bevy of Spanish riders moving to Astana to bolster the squad following Contador’s inability to exit the team.

Pereiro will be one of several Spanish riders who Contador can count on in his run up to the Tour. Other newcomers include Davide de la Fuente, Josep Jufré as well as Italians Enrico Gasparotto and Paolo Tiralongo.

“The truth is I really like the outlandish color of Astana,” he said. “It reminds me of my time at Phonak and this is a good sign.”