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The man in yellow? A conversation with Óscar Pereiro

Perhaps more than anyone, Óscar Pereiro will be watching Monday's start of the Floyd Landis disciplinary hearing with keen interest. The 31-year-old Spanish rider has the most to gain if Landis loses in his bid to clear his name of allegations that he cheated his way to the 2006 Tour de France victory. Pereiro finished second to Landis and would be awarded the 2006 maillot jaune if things don’t swing Landis’s way. VeloNews caught up with Pereiro earlier this year to gauge his feelings on the Landis case, his own brush with scandal and what he was thinking when he jumped right back into

By Andrew Hood

Perhaps more than anyone, Óscar Pereiro will be watching Monday’s start of the Floyd Landis disciplinary hearing with keen interest.

The 31-year-old Spanish rider has the most to gain if Landis loses in his bid to clear his name of allegations that he cheated his way to the 2006 Tour de France victory.

Pereiro finished second to Landis and would be awarded the 2006 maillot jaune if things don’t swing Landis’s way.

VeloNews caught up with Pereiro earlier this year to gauge his feelings on the Landis case, his own brush with scandal and what he was thinking when he jumped right back into contention when he regained 25 minutes in an all-day breakaway. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews.com: You’ve had some time to reflect on what happened in the wake of the 2006 Tour, what are you feelings now?

Óscar Pereiro: I am very content what happened during the Tour in 2006. What’s too bad is what’s happened since – whether I am first, second, whether Landis is first or whatever. I am a little weary of talking about all of this and instead I try to remember the beautiful things that happened last year in the Tour.

VN.com: Do you follow the Landis case closely?

OP: As of today, I am only thinking about the Tour de France, but I am thinking about the Tour of 2007. The Tour of 2006 is already in the history books. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me and by keep going over it in my head, that won’t change anything. The most important thing for me right now is to arrive at the Tour in 100 percent condition and be ready for the team. Now I have a new goal. I want to return to the Tour and be among the favorites.

VN.com: It’s obvious the case won’t be settled before the start of the 2007 Tour, are you frustrated by the speed of the disciplinary process?

OP: I think anyone who loves cycling isn’t happy with this situation. The first thing I have to do is maintain my respect for Landis. Until he is disqualified from the Tour, he is the winner of the Tour. I think I deserve that this process if finished before the start of the next Tour.

VN.com: Why?

OP: Because if they are going to disqualify Landis and award the victory to me, then I would like to be able to enjoy the honors of being the winner of the Tour, not something that will happen three years from now. I think the most important thing right now is remember that the winner of the Tour is Floyd. He hasn’t be disqualified of anything. I want to maintain my respect for him because I know he’s been through a lot and he’s a friend of mine.

VN.com: Throughout this experience, do you feel bitter or cheated?

OP: Well, you get used to everything, no? I know I am missing out on a lot of things – money, the team is missing the glory of winning the Tour, so, sure, it’s normal if you’re a little bitter.

VN.com: Will you feel like you won the Tour de France if they strip the title from Landis?

OP: I don’t know what I will feel if we arrive to that moment, but it’s certain that the sensation won’t be the same. At least I was able to enjoy a long run in the yellow jersey. I’m only missing the ceremony of Paris. Right now I don’t feel like the winner.

VN.com: You had your own brush with scandal (note – French authorities said Pereiro was slow in providing certifications for his use of Salbutamol), what was your reaction to French reports that you didn’t have certification?

OP: This seemed to be more the handiwork of the French press, especially Le Monde. The UCI didn’t tell me anything and the French anti-doping agency had called me to see if I had justification. I’ve never hidden the fact that I have asthma or that I take sprays to treat it. Sometimes right before a time trial, I will use the spray, I never hide it from anyone. I made a test to demonstrate that sometimes I cannot breath properly. There are a lot of days I don’t use it. I publicly declare that I use (the spray), that I have medical justification to use it and I did not commit any type of infraction. I think it was an effort to try to stain me, but I think in the end, everything was settled. The whole episode was kind of a joke.

VN.com: How distracting has all the Landis/Tour business been for you over the winter?

OP: The winter was a little bit over the top, with all these stories about the Tour, whether I am going to be named the winner or I’m not going be named the winner. I had a lot of personal commitments during the winter as well with presentations and galas. Now the only thing I want to worry about is getting back on the bike and training and racing. I have the batteries recharged and I am waiting that this [Landis] process can be concluded

VN.com: You jumped back into contention in a long breakaway in stage 13 in last year’s Tour, what were you thinking when you were up the road and the gap was growing toward 30 minutes?

OP: They were letting me right back into the race. It was something you don’t normally see. I don’t know why, I don’t know if there was some tension among the teams, if T-Mobile wasn’t working hard enough, if Phonak were afraid of the Alps. In the end, it changed everything. We’ll see if they let me do that again!

VN.com: Despite the unresolved situation concerning the 2006 Tour, you must be satisfied either way it shakes out?

OP: I cannot complain. The media attention has been tremendous. The people are treating me in Spain as if I won the Tour de France. That’s very nice. I’ve had the opportunity to arrive in a place where I never thought I would be. I’ve been trying to take advantage of the situation and it enjoy it to the maximum rather than be bitter or upset. I haven’t changed as a person.

VN.com: Before the race, you weren’t among the five-star favorites, but you were able to maximize the circumstances, do you believe you deserve to be on the podium?

OP: I am the first person to recognize that I took advantage of the circumstances in the race. I wasn’t a favorite to win the 2006 Tour de France. Sure, I was in the group of four or five riders in a second tier who might be able to step up if the ones ahead faltered. Throughout my career, I’ve been a rider who can exploit circumstances of the race to my benefit. Last year, we had four or five of the top contenders out of the race because of Operación Puerto. I had finished in top 10 two times at the Tour, so it shouldn’t be seen as a complete surprise. I am always a realistic, especially with myself.

VN.com: Looking ahead to this year’s Tour, do you have similar aspirations to finish on the podium, to win or to help Alejandro Valverde?

OP: Things will unfold in a manner that we will work for whoever is strongest and best-positioned in the GC. That was more or less my role in 2006 and that won’t change so much this year. Alejandro is a rider with a lot of promise and I think he can go far in the Tour. I have a lot more experience with the Tour. I think it’s better for Alejandro that I am by his side. I can teach him when he can be tranquil, when he should take risks. He wants to arrive in Paris, if he arrives in Paris, he will be among the favorites. First he has to finish the Tour, then he can think about winning the Tour.

VN.com: You also will race the Vuelta a España this year with the goal of a strong GC?

OP: I want to arrive to the Tour in better condition in 2007. The team is focusing on Alejandro with the classics and then the Tour, for me it’s more with the Tour and then the Vuelta. This year, the Vuelta starts in my region, in Galicia, we have four stages there, so I am more motivated than ever. I want to make a good Vuelta and aim for the overall for the first, make a strong Vuelta. I’d like to win either one of the two, either would suit me just fine.