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There is relief in Spain following the confirmation at Thursday's Tour de France presentation that Oscar Pereiro will be awarded the title and carry the No.1 race number if Floyd Landis is confirmed as guilty of doping. Such was the clamour in Spain in the wake of reports in the French press that there might be no winner of the 2006 Tour, Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky contacted Patrice Clerc, head of Tour organisers ASO, to support Pereiro's case.
Clerc and Tour director Christian Prudhomme had an informal meeting with Jos Miguel Echavarri, manager of Pereiro's Caisse d'Epargne team, at the Tour launch in Paris. Pereiro was also seated for the 2007 Tour presentation in the spot usually reserved for the Tour winner, although it took him 20 minutes to reach his seat such was the clamour for comment from the assembled media.
His team have talked of their desire to see Pereiro wearing yellow on the Champs Elyses in Paris if Landis is stripped of the title, and this wish is apparently supported by Crdit Lyonnais, sponsors of the yellow jersey.
As if to underline the Tour organisers disappointment with Landis, the film presented at the launch ended with an image of the American in yellow in the final podium in Paris. The image shattered into thousands of pieces, to the sound of breaking glass.
Pereiro said of his reception by the press in Paris, "they wanted me to say what I didn't want to say - whether I feel like the winner or not. I can't talk about that, and I prefer not to get mixed up in talk about whether they will give me the jersey or whether I'm the race's virtual winner. The only virtual I know is PlayStation."
He did admit, though, that "I felt like I was treated like the winner of the Tour. I was shown great respect and people said that they felt I had a great month in July, and that I produced some good things at the Tour."
As for the route of the 2007 race, the Spaniard described it as "as hard as ever. It seems good for me, and for everyone else, that the first long time trial comes after the Alps. Perhaps the climbs aren't as relentless as in 2006. The Pyrenees will make the difference. The 'queen' stage will be the one to Plateau de Beille. Fifty kilometres from the finish is the Col de Pailheres, which is one of the hardest I know."
Following a launch that was strangely devoid of top riders, Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen gave his reaction to the route via phone from his Monaco home. "It seems a good and interesting route, even though I still haven't seen full details of all of the stages," said the Belgian. "It'll be exciting starting in London with a prologue where every second will count. The first stage arrives at Canterbury, I know this area pretty well and this type of route as I took part in the last edition of the Tour of Britain.
"Then on the Monday we'll have the first stage on the Continent from Dunkirk to Gent. This is a stage suited to riders like myself. It is always great riding in front of a home crowd but this fact itself also gives me a certain amount of responsibility. Generally, the first week of stages are quite frantic, there will be lots of riders wanting to make their mark before the men in classifications take over. I'd love to win a stage during the first week and then focus on leadership of the classifications. Last year it was just fantastic wearing the yellow jersey. The last two years I've not been able to finish the Tour for various reasons but this year it would great to get as far as Paris and even better still be able to fight right up until the end for the green jersey."
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