July 21, 2006:
No one has ever seen anything like it. Stages 16 and 17 of the 2006 Tour de France threw the ultimate in emotional and physical pendulum swings at us, as Tour leader and all-around tough guy Floyd Landis blew up big time on Wednesday's final climb and lost over 10 minutes to eventual stage winner Michael "Chicken" Rasmussen. Landis would end up plummeting from first overall in the race to 11th, 8:08 behind new leader Oscar Pereiro (his former teammate and good friend). Click here for Cyclingnews.com's summary of the stage.
The cycling press and most everyone else wrote Landis off - everyone knows that 8 minutes is too large a margin for even a great time trialist like Landis to pull back, and his chances of finishing in the top five of the Tour this next Sunday were slim.
Mentally and physically depleted, Landis refused to be broken. Instead of hiding in his mobile home and declining to speak to the media, he cleaned up and hydrated a bit, then came out for an interview. The team leader who had just "thrown away" the biggest prize in cycling was unexpectedly open and candid, placing all the blame on himself. Other riders might have faulted their team for not having hired stronger climbers to help pace them (Axel Merckx, not known as a climber, actually performed that function admirably during Stage 16), but Floyd simply blamed the collapse on a "really bad day on the wrong day." Personally I suspect a combination of under-hydration and maybe a bit of the bonk, but the result was disastrous.
Apparently nobody told Landis that he had been reduced to a footnote for Thursday's Stage 17, another brutal climbing stage through some of the most difficult terrain in the Alps. Shortly after the start, he and his teammates launched a vicious attack to bring back a small breakaway, and Floyd continued to pour on the power as the leading group was caught.
Patrick Sinkewitz, a young German rider who seems destined for stardom, and Patrice Halgand from Crédit Agricole, were able to hang with Landis for over the Col de Aravis, Col de Colombière, and Côte de Châtillon-sur-Cluses, but on the epic climb of the Col de Joux-Plane, it was all Floyd. Followers of the Tour may remember this as the place where Lance Armstrong bonked badly a few years ago and nearly lost the race.
In the end, Landis soloed on to the stage victory, putting 5:42 into Carlos Sastre and 7:08 into Oscar Pereiro. With time bonuses, he trailed Pereiro by a mere 30 seconds and Sastre by 12 seconds in the overall race. He's not wearing the "maillot jaune" yet, but with Floyd's superior time trialing ability, he's again the favorite to lead the race as it finishes in Paris on Sunday.
You need to go back to 1958, well before the advent of race radios and live TV coverage, to find any such comeback in Tour history. That was the year the "Angel of the Mountains," Charly Gaul, made up 15 minutes on Raphael Geminiani on the final stage in the Alps. Gaul went on to win the final time trial as well as the overall that year.
Thanks, Floyd, for taking us on an incredible roller coaster ride over the past few days. May the force be with you on Saturday.
July 22, 2006:
Floyd's the man. He powered through the individual time trial pounding a huge gear and looking smooth all the way, to finish third on the stage behind Sergei Gonchar and Andreas Klöden, 1:11 down on Gonchar, but good for a .59 second lead on Pereiro on GC (overall time). Game over.
July 23, 2006:
As the ex-Mennonite farm kid with the arthritic hip rolled around the streets of Paris, two guys named Eddy and Lance sat in a hotel café talking about one of the most incredible Tours de France they'd ever witnessed. The one named Merckx murmured "Strong . . . unbelievably strong," and the one named Armstrong nodded in agreement.
Landis doesn't really look the part of the Euro-cool bike racing pro. Strip off the spandex and hand him a pitchfork and some overalls, and he'll fit right in, slightly rough edges and all. But no one can deny the pure force of will that resides deep inside him, and which propelled him to victory in the 2006 Tour.
Unlike Lance, who had a cadre of hand-picked and highly paid specialists to help win the team time trial and pace him on the big climbs, Landis was often alone in the final critical kilometers of stages (there was no team time trial this year).
As his ex-team leader Armstrong put it, "Floyd won this race; his strength was not his team, his strength was his mind and his will."
Well said, Lance, and here's to the new"Patron" of the Tour, Floyd Landis.
July 27, 2006:
Team Phonak today confirmed that the rider testing positive for an excessive testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio after Stage 17 of the Tour de France was Floyd Landis. Floyd and his team have asked to have his "B" sample evaluated, and are awaiting the results. If the "B" sample is also found positive (greater than 4:1), Landis has the option of having a series of tests done by a qualified endocrinologist that could prove his innocence by reason of a naturally high T/E level. In the meantime, we wait. For an in-depth discussion of T/E testing, click here.
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© 2006 Gregory C. Louie