For strategic reasons, Floyd Landis had made no secret of his desire to yield the yellow jersey as leader of the Tour de France. But who could have guessed that his successor would be a rider who started the day in 46th place, 28 minutes 50 seconds behind Landis?
His name is Oscar Pereiro, a 28-year-old Spaniard with the Caisse d'Epargne team of Spain.
Pereiro inherited the yellow jersey on Saturday by being part of an early five-man breakaway that the main pack let run wild as it finished in almost another time zone. As the breakaway rider with the least elapsed time overall, Pereiro took the leadership.
The exact deficit for Landis, the American leader of the Phonak team, and most of the other riders in the bizarre 13th daily stage was 29 minutes 57 seconds. With time bonuses, that translated into a lead for Pereiro, with Landis 1:29 behind and Cyril Dessel, a Frenchman with AG2R, 1:37 behind.
For two days, Landis had said he preferred to save his team's energy for the Alps by giving away the responsibility of controlling the race. In addition, he said he expected that whoever took the jersey to help him in the mountains -- a common trade-off.
If so, Pereiro may be his man. If, that is, he does not turn into a real contender for final victory.
Tenth in the Tour in 2004 and last year, he is an inconsistent climber, but he did win a mountain stage and finished second in another last year, when he rode for Landis' team.
Landis acted untroubled after the pack finished a day in which it looked like a local cycling club out for a relaxing jaunt.
"We just took it easy and whether we caught them or not, we just wanted to ride at a certain speed," he said.
They came in so far back that officials had to relax the rule about finishing within a given time of the leader or facing elimination. More than 20 percent of the riders would have been ousted, officials said, putting the number far lower than it really was: 155.
Still looking stunned, Pereiro said at a news conference that he was not thinking about the yellow jersey when he joined the breakaway.
"I had a bad day in the Pyrenees," he said. "All I was thinking about today was a stage victory."
"Now the situation has changed," he added. "It's another Tour de France."
He did not get the stage victory, finishing second to Jens Voigt, a German with CSC, in a two-man sprint. Voigt had no chance for the yellow jersey since he ranked 112th beforehand.
In winning the rolling stage over 143 miles -- the longest day in the 93rd Tour -- he was timed in 5 hours 24 minutes 36 seconds, a speed of 26.4 miles an hour. Pereiro had the same time, with two companions in the breakaway 40 seconds back and the fifth 6:24 back.
The 155 other riders rode at a speed that was not announced as they moved in the heavy heat eastward in southern France from Beziers to Montelimar. Once again, they were watched by enormous crowds.
Voigt was jubilant about his victory.
"This was the fifth time that I went on the attack in this Tour, and finally it worked out," he said. "This victory is very important for the team, and I've tried to keep its morale up."
His CSC team lost its leader, Ivan Basso, on doping suspicions before the Tour started July 1 and has been plagued by crashes.
The team's motivation, even before Voigt's victory, was quite good, said Christian Vandevelde, Voight's American teammate.