Caisse D'Epargne-Illes Balears chief Eusebio Unzué this evening described how Oscar Pereiro had beguPIC BY TIM DE WAELE
Caisse D'Epargne-Iles Balears chief Eusebio Unzu this evening described how Oscar Pereiro had begun plotting Floyd Landis's demise when he saw the yellow jersey struggling on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, the second of four passes on a dramatic 16th stage between Bourg-D'Oisans to La Toussuire.
Landis imploded spectacularly on the final ascent of the day towards La Toussuire, allowing Pereiro to regain the yellow jersey he lost to the Phonak rider at Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday. Pereiro now leads the Tour by 1'50" from CSC's Carlos Sastre, while Landis has nosedived out of contention and lies 11th at 8'08" from the Caisse D'Epargne-Iles Balears rider.
Unzu said tonight that Landis's collapse to be retraced to the upper slopes of the Croix-de-Fer. It was there that Landis's last remaining Phonak lieutenant, Axel Merckx, began to lose contact with a lead group containing four Caisse D'Epargne riders, and Landis showed the first signs of strain.
"The boys were telling me on the radio that Landis was drifting back, and that he was isolated. They said that he looked as though he was suffering in the heat," Unzu revealed. "At that point we tried to up the pace. Landis survived there but it wasn't a surprise to us when he finally lost contact on the last climb. And when he started losing time we knew that he was collapsing: we've seen in the past that Landis can be inconsistent and have bad days. In fact, in this Tour, the only rider who hasn't had a bad day yet is Sastre."
Unzu now believes that it will be "difficult but not impossible" for Pereiro to retain the yellow jersey until the Tour's Champs Elysees finale on Sunday. Looking ahead to the stage which most believe poses the biggest threat to Pereiro's lead - Saturday's 57km time trial between Le Creusot and Montceau Les Mines - Unzu was cautiously optimistic.
"He's not a specialist but his form is good and improving," Unzu said of Periero, who finished 23rd at 2'40" from stage winner Serghiy Gonchar in the first long time trial of the Tour in Rennes. "He's also riding on confidence now: I think that finishing so close to Landis yesterday gave him a huge boost. With this heat, and with so many climbs, anything could still happen in this Tour."