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An interview with Oscar Pereiro - Part 1, February 27, 2007
The long wait
Oscar Pereiro, tenth in 2004, tenth in 2005, and now perhaps the winner of the biggest race in cycling? He's still waiting for the USADA vs. Floyd Landis hearing which will determine if that will be the case, but it's one of the two possible outcomes to the saga which has shaken the sport. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes sat down with the Spaniard at the pre-season training camp in Mallorca and talked about this and many other topics.
He's won a stage and been tenth twice, but when Oscar Pereiro lined out at the start of the 2006 Tour de France he didn't dare dream he had a chance of winning the biggest race in cycling. Yet that may come to pass. On May 14 Floyd Landis will have his long-awaited hearing with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA); sometime after that it will be decided if the American will lose his Tour crown, and if the title will consequently go to the Spaniard.
Ever since July 15 things have been somewhat surreal for the Galician. He had a bad day in the Pyrenees and came out of the first set of high mountains far behind the then-race leader Landis. 2004 and 2005 had seen him take top ten finishes in the event but with a repeat of that looking to be a long way from possible; stage wins were to be the new target.
At around 12.10 pm on that day Pereiro set about chasing that aim, going clear in a group a full 207 kilometres from the finish in Montélimar. He and his breakaway companions rode hard and, against all odds, their lead skyrocketed. He ended up recouping the entire 28'50" deficit he had at the start of the stage. Race leader Floyd Landis had decided it was too soon to be in yellow and with he and his Phonak team elected not to chase, the Spaniard finished the day 1'29" in front.
It was an incredible twist in an intriguing Tour. Pereiro had gone from 46th to first overall in the space of 5 hours 24 minutes and 36 seconds of racing; his strength – and luck – overcoming one uncharacteristically poor day in the mountains.
From that point on, he rode like the overall contender nobody expected him to be. He climbed as well as the other big guns and while Landis' stunning – and possibly supercharged – ride on stage 17 paved the way for him to wear yellow in Paris, Pereiro battled all the way to the Champs-Élysées sand took second place.
And that, we all thought, was that. Pereiro was certainly happy, saying that he was delighted with the runner-up slot. No wonder: it was the best Spanish performance since Joseba Beloki's ride four years earlier and guaranteed him both fame and a big contract.
Yet the soap opera Tour of 2006 had one final twist to play out. Two days after the end of the Tour, Pereiro received the news that transformed his life and rocked the world of cycling. The result of the urine test Landis had provided after his epic ride had been released; the American was positive for testosterone.
"It was the Tuesday after the Tour when I heard," he told Cyclingnews at the recent Caisse d'Epargne team training camp in Mallorca. "I was not happy to hear that because at the start of the Tour, cycling was going through a lot because of Operación Puerto. Once the race got going people were very happy with the Tour again... the sport was incredible once more. Second in the Tour de France was incredible for me too... it was not possible two years ago for me to believe I could do something like this."
Regardless about moving up a step on the podium, he said he regretted hearing that the yellow jersey had failed the test. "When I heard the news, I thought that it was better that Floyd Landis had won the Tour [without problems] and I was second, for the benefit of the sport. Because of his positive, cycling was being hit again. I couldn't possibly be happy with that."
He has faced months of uncertainty since then, not knowing if Landis would be found guilty and lose his Tour title. If this is the case, the Spaniard will have missed out on a lot; standing in yellow on the Champs-Élysées, being celebrated around the world as the winner, making a very large sum of money in the post-Tour criteriums and endorsements. As an example, Landis stood to earn a rumoured 60,000 euro in appearance money in the Chaam criterium, the one he missed after hearing he had failed the test.
When asked what this all cost him, Pereiro doesn't name a figure. "It is not possible to answer the question," he says. "For sure, I lost a lot. Winning the Tour de France in July and winning it much later is not the same.
"I've also lost out on criteriums, sponsors, publicity opportunities... it is incalculable." Yet, as regards Landis, he is able to be somewhat philosophical. "I think that all that has happened has been enough, it is not possible to be angry with him after what he has gone through. This has been very tough for him. Maybe he did something wrong, but he has paid a lot.
"As regards the decision [about possibly being named winner of the Tour], I don't know when it will be made. I cannot say how I would feel until that point in time, until the moment when the news comes in."
Le Monde, AFLD and that TUE
Given his talk about the financial and sporting losses he has incurred due to the Landis positive, Pereiro's lack of anger at the American is notable. Perhaps it's because of their history; he's said in the past that he considers Floyd to be a friend. They were teammates on Phonak prior to Pereiro's move from the team at the end of 2005.
Maybe he is reluctant to be drawn into condemnation of the rider until the case is fully concluded and a conclusion is reached. Or perhaps it is down to what he says; being declared positive brings massive amounts of stress. If so, Pereiro's recent experiences have given him a small taste of the pressure Landis has been under.
On January 18 the French newspaper Le Monde ran a story which alleged the Spaniard himself tested positive in the 2006 Tour. The substance in question was salbutamol, a component of the anti-asthma medication Pereiro was using. He had a Therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the inhaler but the French AFLD anti-doping agency queried if this was a genuine need and asked Pereiro to send them proof. He delayed in doing so, and Le Monde ran with the story; cue sensationalist headlines on its website and news pages about Pereiro being positive, which in turn sparked off further stories around the world.
The Le Monde story quickly fizzled out, but harmed the rider's image along the way. As UCI president Pat McQuaid stated, Pereiro was guilty of tardiness in sending proof of his condition and nothing else. The rider got a rap on his knuckles while the newspaper was criticised for its reporting, which seemed to cast aspersions without taking into account a scientifically-documented high incidence of exercise-induced asthma amongst cyclists and other athletes.
Pereiro's moving on from all that, but while he speaks calmly it is clear that he is angry about what happened. "For me, I understood what was going on and knew I did nothing wrong, so I didn't let it get to me," he stated. "I knew it would be sorted out. I didn't like what was going on though. I was angry for what was happening as regards to my family and my friends.
"I think it was a malicious attack by the newspaper. There was no problem with the UCI, there was no problem with WADA and there was no problem with the Tour organisers. I spoke with the French doping agency by telephone and I told them that my doctor was on holidays and I would send it [the file] the following Monday. The problem was that we didn't send it until Tuesday.
"Normally for these situations one form is enough. You don't need to send more. But the French agency wanted all my forms from over the years. I have the TUE in my house but it is my doctor who has all the forms from other seasons."
He's unimpressed by the reporting, and the motive. "I'm not happy because in no moment could they talk about a positive. No moment. In the sporting context it is not a positive. This was a malicious attack to hurt my image. But I am happy with the UCI, the Tour, WADA... they all knew the story, and I am sure that not all the French think badly of me. I am angry with the newspaper, though."
When asked if he thought the matter had damaged his image, he said that he wasn't sure. "It is very bad, but the most important thing is for us sportspeople to remain calm. I don't know what the situation is in France, the USA, Italy, but in Spain no newspaper spoke badly of Pereiro... they all said the situation was not possible.
"The UCI said things were okay, WADA said things were okay, the Tour said things were okay. There was no problem with them. Nobody had confidence in what Le Monde wrote."
Read page two of the Pereiro interview.