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Forty-eight hours ago, after George Hincapie jumped out of Oscar Periero's slipstream to take victory in the second of three stages in the Pyrenees, the Spanish rider reflected ruefully that "the strongest man doesn't always win at the Tour." What Periero of course meant, and would later state more directly, was that Hincapie had robbed him. Stitched him up like a great Spanish kipper. "I think I was the moral victor of the stage. At least no one can take that away from me," said the 27-year-old Galician.
Today Pereiro could savour the real thing at the end of his 115km raid over the Col de Marie Blanque and the Col d'Ausbique. This time there was no Hincapie, no one to reap the fruits of his hard labour. There was just that sporting justice which was lacking on Sunday, and which just occasionally says that the strongest man does win. Today that man was Oscar Pereiro.
"Today I settled a score," said the Phonak climber in his post-race press conference. "I think everyone knows that I wasn't too happy about Hincapie winning the other day. I have nothing against him personally. I just know what a stage victory in the Tour is worth, and I know that what he did wasn't very fair."
Perieiro's victory, Phonak's first in the Tour de France, lifted him to 15th in the overall standings tonight, almost 16 minutes behind race leader Lance Armstrong. Ironically, it was the Spaniard's lowly position on GC that allowed him to slip away unmarked on the Marie Blanque today.
"I came to the Tour hoping to finish high up on GC," he confirmed. "I soon realised that that would be difficult because there is a great field here. I then asked Santiago [Botero] and Floyd [Landis] if I could try to get into some breaks. They gave me a free role, which was great for me.
"Everyone says that the Spanish are doing a bad tour," Pereiro continued. "Everyone is still obsessed with Indurain and comparing us to him. People need to forget and concentrate on the new generation. It's easy to criticise but before people do that they should look at the general level of peloton."
Pereiro concluded by revealing that, while he would reward himself with a new car for today's win, Phonak boss John Lelangue might already be ruing a pact he made with Pereiro at the start of the Tour. "I got my hair cut too short at the start of the Tour. To be honest, it didn't look great, but John said that he would get his shaved just as short if I won a stage."
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