Pereiro takes yellow jersey from Landis

Updated: July 15, 2006, 7:36 PM ET
Associated Press

MONTELIMAR, France -- Floyd Landis is willing to gamble that his best days at the Tour de France are ahead of him.

Julich's Tour diary
Floyd Landis' squad exhausted all its "help" options in one stage. Teams are likely saying, "If you're not going to try to defend the yellow, why should we help you?" With a minimum amount of effort Saturday, Phonak could have saved the yellow jersey.

• American Bobby Julich rides for Team CSC. To read more of his Tour de France diary, click here.

The American gave up the race's overall lead Saturday, deciding to save his energy for next week's vital stages before the Tour reaches its finish in Paris next Sunday.

Spain's Oscar Pereiro, of Illes Balears, claimed the jersey by finishing 29 minutes and 57 seconds ahead of Landis and the main pack of riders in Saturday's 13th stage. Jens Voigt of Germany won the stage, finishing in the same time as Pereiro.

"I don't think we need to keep the jersey every single day, and I'm happy to see Pereiro get the jersey," said Landis, who was a teammate of Pereiro's on Phonak. "He's an ex-teammate of mine, and he looked happy."

Landis slipped to second overall, 1:29 behind the Spaniard. Pereiro understood the logic of his former teammate's strategy.

"I don't consider it a gift, but for them it's an advantage now to see someone else have to work to control the race," Pereiro said.

For years, the strategy of many Tour favorites has been to allow other riders to temporarily take the jersey, then recapture it in the time trials and grueling mountain stages of the last week. The tactic lessens the pressure on teams to protect their leader and ride hard at the front. It was often a rule of thumb for Lance Armstrong en route to his record seven Tour victories.

Landis' somewhat risky calculation is that Pereiro, who struggled in the Pyrenees this week, won't fare well in three tougher Alpine stages in the final week and the penultimate stage time trial.

Landis said that letting Pereiro take the yellow jersey amounted to "a gamble" -- but he wanted to let his squad concentrate on supporting him in the Alps starting Tuesday, after a rest day Monday.

"To me, it's better to save our team," said the Pennsylvania native, who has repeatedly said his only goal is to wear the yellow jersey at the finish of the three-week race on the Champs-Elysees.

Voigt, riding for Team CSC, won the hot and dry stage from Beziers to Montelimar after he and Pereiro were among a group of five riders who broke away early from the main pack.

The huge gap of nearly 30 minutes between the two leaders and most riders wasn't far from the record 35:54 differential between a breakaway group and the pack in a 2001 Tour stage. At 143 miles, Saturday's stage was the Tour's longest this year, and the main pack seemed content to let the breakaway riders go.

Other potential contenders are also are biding their time. Australia's Cadel Evans, of Davitamon-Lotto, said Saturday he was "happy with where I am" -- 2:46 back in fifth place.

Just a day earlier, Landis let another rider get away. Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych cut his deficit to Landis by more than half in winning Friday's stage. He is now 11th, 5:44 behind Pereiro, adding the Ukrainian to the list of rivals that Landis will need to watch in the Alps.

Pereiro is no lightweight: He finished 10th in both of his two previous Tour appearances in 2004 and 2005.

He only lost 1:40 to Landis in the first long time trial at the end of the first week. And he can climb: Pereiro's other Tour stage win came last year in a punishing ride in the Alps.

But Landis and his race manager believe they know what they're doing. Pereiro lost more than 26 minutes to Landis in the harder of two stages in the Pyrenees this week.

They also say they know Pereiro's abilities well. He was on Phonak for four years before joining Illes Balears earlier this year.

Pereiro, who surprised himself by taking the lead, said he believes Landis can take back the yellow shirt whenever he wants.

"I have to be realistic," he admitted.

But he also said he's bounced back from his disappointments in the Pyrenees.

"I feel that I'm in good condition. I've recuperated well," the 29-year-old said.

Pereiro had little preparation to be the leader. Illes Balears had planned to ride in support of team star Alejandro Valverde. But he broke his collarbone in a crash in the opening week.

Pereiro taking the lead was the latest twist in a Tour that has been weird since the beginning.

Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner, and last year's runner-up Ivan Basso were among nine riders sent home on the eve of the July 1 start because they were implicated in a doping probe.

And without Armstrong exerting his control, the race has lacked a clear leader, creating an exciting new sense of opportunity for riders who long rode in his shadow.

Pereiro is the seventh rider to take the yellow jersey this year. Only in 1958 and 1987 have more cyclists worn it: eight.

"The Tour is pretty exciting," Voigt said, "the yellow jersey changes every day."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press