Tour de France: Pereiro breakaway exposes Landis

One of easiest stages reveals the weakness of American's team and puts Spaniard in yellow

Yesterday's victory for the CSC rider Jens Voigt was almost completely overshadowed by the failure of the American Floyd Landis to retain the overall lead in the most unlikely circumstances.

The 230-kilometre trek through the foothills of the Cevennes was in theory one of the easiest of the second week, even if temperatures soared into the 40s in mid-afternoon and the road tarmac was bubbling under the peloton's wheels as they passed.

So when a five-man break containing theoretical non-favourites such as Voigt and the rider he outsprinted in Montélimar, Oscar Pereiro, went clear in the first hour, Landis's yellow jersey was expected to remain secure.

However, this year's race has been heavy on surprises, and as the clock ticked away after Voigt and Pereiro crossed the line, a sub-plot of the stage - that of Pereiro making inroads on the overall classification - suddenly mushroomed into the main event of the day.

Starting the day in 46th position, nearly 29 minutes behind Landis, Pereiro's chances of moving into yellow would usually be rated as minimal - which is precisely why he was allowed into the move in the first place.

However, Landis's squad, Phonak, then proved incapable of taking control of the race behind, or of finding allies willing to help them do so.

Instead, the bunch trundled in nearly half an hour down on the two stage leaders, and Pereiro found himself, contrary to all possible expectations, in yellow, with nearly 90 seconds advantage on Landis overall.

"It's a huge surprise, but a very welcome one for us," Pereiro, who rides for a Hispano-French team, Caisse D'Epargne-Iles Baleares commented afterwards.

"We lost our team leader Alejandro Valverde in the Ardennes because of a crash, so taking the jersey is definitely something to celebrate. Little by little, I started doing the maths during the stage, seeing if I could get the yellow jersey. Lord knows we had enough time to kill after attacking so early on. But really I never expected that I could actually do it." Landis remains the overall favourite for yellow in Paris, given that Pereiro suffered badly in the Pyrenees and the Alps are yet to come. Logic would dictate that he should crack, leaving the way open for the American once more.

But the Spaniard's success proves beyond all doubt that if the American himself is in top condition, his team are way too weak collectively to control the race - even on a stage with virtually no climbs.

The consequence is simple: the American's rivals will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the inroads they can make on Landis's overall advantage in the three tough mountain stages to come. For the fans this development is more than welcome, following years of domination by Lance Armstrong.

In fact, all the 2006 Tour has in common with the Texan's seven-year hegemony is that an American is the major favourite - and like Armstrong, one spurred on by experience of a major health problem.

In Armstrong's case, suffering a life-threatening form of cancer prior to winning the Tour was what motivated him to greater success.

But in the 30-year-old Pennsylvanian's case, it is the knowledge that the slow but steady development of arthritis in his right hip, which will need replacement this autumn, could mean this is his last chance to win the Tour. But if no one can question Landis's motivation, the biggest problem for him is his team.

The American was completely isolated at the crunch moments in the Pyrenees, and with three Alpine stages to come, this hardly bodes well.

Whoever does win the Tour will also have to retain enough strength to fend off their rivals in a final long time-trial on Saturday. To judge from Landis's experience yesterday, no leader will be able to breathe easy beforehand. After so many Tours with the same winner, it is a welcome, and intriguing development in the race's history.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there