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