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A day after L'Equipe, which belongs to the same media group as the Tour de France, suggested that there may be no declared winner of the 2006 Tour if erstwhile champion Floyd Landis is stripped of the title for doping, both the International Cycling Union and Tour head honcho Patrice Clerc have made clear that the title would be handed to runner-up Oscar Pereiro. L'Equipe had suggested on Wednesday that Landis would not be replaced as winner by Pereiro, leading to a furore in Spain.
That unrest has been quelled somewhat by statements from the UCI's Alain Rumpf and from Clerc. "If Landis is disqualified, according to our rules, Oscar Pereiro, who finished second, would then be declared the winner," said Rumpf. "In sport it is natural there is a winner of any competition.Consequently, Pereiro would be placed first in the standings in accordance with the rules. Why should he be penalised? Oscar shouldn't be the victim."
For his part, Clerc stated "if the first-placed rider is disqualified, the second takes his place, even if this victory won't be blessed with the same lustre as one gained in the field. Denis Menchov won the 2005 Vuelta a Espa¤a 2005 after the elimination of Roberto Heras, but was he really the winner?" Clerc also told AS: "I don't understand this debate, this is sport, not a walk in the park. The Tour is the world's biggest cycling event, and it is clear there has to be a winner."
According to the Spanish sporting press, who are never shy on holding back whenever there is the slightest hint of a conspiracy, there is a strong feeling within the Tour organisation that Pereiro would not be seen as a worthy winner of the 2006 race. The existence of such a feeling seems to have been backed up by comments in L'Equipe from former Tour winners Raymond Poulidor and Laurent Fignon, who felt there should be no winner if Landis is scratched from the overall standings. Bernard Hinault, though, felt that Pereiro should not pay for an offence committed by another rider.
Speaking prior to the statements by Rumpf and Clerc, Pereiro's Caisse d'Epargne team manager, Jos Miguel Echavarri, was incensed by the reports. "The laws and regulations are there to be applied, and even more so by those who have laid them down. You can't change on a whim. If they don't like the situation, they should change the laws next year. But they can't take the victory away from Pereiro now," said Echavarri.
He added: "Finishing as winner of the Tour de France is an image that a lot of teams invest a lot of money in achieving and we've been deprived of that. Surely we've been deprived of enough already."
Pereiro said that he would not start the 2007 race if the news in L'Equipe was confirmed. "Why should I be there if they don't respect the law?" he said in AS. He admitted that he still does not see himself as the Tour winner, but emphasised he wants the issue resolved as soon as possible. "I don't want my name constantly linked to Landis. For the time being I finished second. I don't regard myself as the 'virtual' winner."
He added: "It is right for Floyd Landis to defend himself legally if he believes he is innocent. But there is no reason for me to get wrapped up in this. In the end, it would be best if he was cleared for the good of the sport."
Pereiro confessed the turmoil resulting from Landis's positive test has totally overwhelmed him since the news broke in August. "I forgot all about my home life and training. I rode the Vuelta with little training at all. I didn't do what I should have. I was confused, my feet weren't on the ground."
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