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The Oscar Pereiro Barometer

Flipping through the Men's Journal article from yesterday at lunch... it's nice to see that a magazine which barely lifts a finger to cover Cycling still manages to not look dumb when they drop by the Tour de France. Their rider to watch is Alejandro Valverde... "Beware the Green Bullet." Of course, they pulled this off by hiring VeloNews' European correspondent Andy Hood, and the headline editor implied that Levi Leipheimer doesn't have a chance, even though he might be the best time triallist among the favorites in a Tour that (as I have pointed out hourly today) will favor time triallists. But no matter.

This was the second reminder (after a frivolous NYT piece) that the Tour is coming, and all the part-time Cycling fans and media are slowly coming out of the woodwork. Now, before going too far, let me say I fully appreciate the role of part-time Cycling fan, in America anyway. Obviously I stand with the people whose attraction to the sport justifies a full-time investment, but I recognize its limitations. Some large percentage of Americans -- 90? 95? -- surely must consider it unthinkable to follow a sport that occurs mostly overseas, and which can be viewed primarily on line, for $30, and only after a few tries. And it's not like the American Cycling establishment has done much to change those Tour-only viewing habits. In the sport's history, Americans have won the Tour de France 11 times, including (for now) the last eight... and the Giro once, no Vueltas, no Paris-Roubaixs, no Tours of Flanders, one asterisked Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and three World road races.

Despite all the barriers to entry, Cycling draws out a large crowd from the US and other marginal Cycling nations for the Tour de France. Quite simply, the Tour radiates a historical, cultural and athletic significance that catches the eye of recreational cyclists, casual sports fans, wandering vacationers in-country, and everyone who thinks endurace suffering is cool. However great the Giro or De Ronde may be, and don't get me started there, the fact is that only the Tour occupies a place in the world's collective sports consciousness alongside the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, the World Cup, Olympic figure skating, Acapulco Cliff Diving, etc. So millions of people outside the hardcore tifosi make their annual foray into Cycling, celebrate the athletes for three weeks, maybe even get meaningfully acquainted with the sport, and move on. Fine by me... we have no use at the Podium Cafe for double standards.

But there's no pass for the media, and this is where Oscar Pereiro comes in. Any major magazine/TV show/website/etc. that does its annual drive-by coverage of the Tour owes its audience at least a modicum of intelligent coverage, by which I mean you need to spend at least 10 minutes on Pez or VN or CN and figure out who the real riders to watch are. During the Lance years, it was hard to tell who actually lifted a finger to cover the Tour, but now, thanks to last year's unusual results, we can tell: any medium that lists Oscar Pereiro as among the top three favorites must be shunned.

As we all know, Oscarita happened upon his Tour leadership in a gift breakaway, gaining back lost time and putting him back into the race, where he woke up and defended his position well. If Landis is expunged from the books, I will openly call him the winner [my disgust with him last summer had more to do with his convenient ability to forget how he erased his 25 minute deficit]. Pereiro is a competent rider and a consensus B-list contender... but to the lazy reporter, he's the answer to the trick question: who's the favorite this year, based solely on last year's results?

Regardless of how you viewed his 2006 Tour, IMHO it's undisputed that this year he's working for Valverde, not himself. Even if Valverde got hurt again or kicked out, I'd still wait til after the Albi time trial before annointing him the team leader over Vlad Karpets, Luis León Sánchez, or some other rider plucked off of Caisse d'Epargne's deep, deep bench.

So that's the Pereiro barometer. Any medium (e.g., NY Times) that puts his name between Vinokourov and Valverde should be ignored or scorned. Any medium that shows they know better, accepted. Nice work, Men's Journal.