The media, growing restless with offseason stories such as Jan Ullrich's homeless wanderings and the latest in transfer rumors, has been spouting a couple intersquad rivalries to watch in 2007. One, Tom Boonen vs. Paolo Bettini, could be spectacular. Two consecutive world champions loaded with ambition, talent and determination to win, possibly even aimed at the same race. Yep, stay tuned on that one.
But the other one, hyped a bit by CN yesterday and by Cycle Sport in a lengthier piece this month, has a lot less potential. Oscar Pereiro will not attack Alejandro Valverde anytime soon, I predict.
First, they're making awfully nice, and yeah, riders will do that beforehand, but these are two guys who actually took their families on vacation together this offseason. The personal rivalry potential seems just about nil.
Next, the Caisse d'Epargne team isn't stupid, they know what they have on their hands: a talented all-rounder who might have lucked his way into history before it's all said and done, and an emerging potential champion for the ages. Team managers Eusebio Unzue and Jose Echavarri had no trouble brushing aside ex-champ Pedro Delgado at the 1991 Tour when teammate Miguel Indurain arrived, so they won't put form over substance. Pereiro, for his part, seems to get it too. The Cycle Sport article has plenty of his usual huh? quotes concerning the 2006 Tour, but Pereiro doesn't rate himself that highly for 2007, or in comparison to Valverde.
Here's a logical way for it to shake out: Pereiro is the #2 option for the Tour -- Valverde hasn't finished one yet, and you never know what can happen. But absent bad luck or a mysterious loss of form, Valverde will enjoy the whole team's clear support until Paris. In exchange, Oscar will get leadership status at the Vuelta, which Valverde only raced last year as an afterthought. The Vuelta is more suited to Pereiro's stature as a B-list grand tour contender, and if he behaves up to then, Pereiro will have earned his shot.