Landis christens post-Armstrong era with victory

Monday, July 24, 2006

Floyd Landis kept cycling's biggest prize in American hands.

PARIS -- The highs and lows of Floyd Landis' nail-biter of a bike race ended without a hitch Sunday as he won the Tour de France and kept cycling's most prestigious title in American hands for the eighth straight year.

The 30-year-old Landis cruised to victory on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysˇes, a day after regaining the leader's yellow jersey and building an insurmountable lead in the final time trial.

"I kept fighting, never stopped believing," Landis said, shortly after he received the winner's yellow jersey on the podium, joined by his daughter, Ryan.

Landis picked up where another American left off last year, when Lance Armstrong completed his seventh and final Tour triumph. With the victory, Landis becomes the third American -- joining Armstrong and three-time winner Greg LeMond -- to win the Tour.

"I'm proud and happy for Floyd," said Armstrong, who watched the finish on TV from a luxurious hotel room near the Champs-Elysˇes. "He proved he was the strongest, everybody wrote him off."

As the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Landis, cap in hand, stared solemnly at the crowd. But when the anthem ended, he broke into a smile and waved to the fans.

Landis, who plans to undergo surgery this fall on an arthritic right hip injured in a 2003 crash, said he hoped he would be able to return next year.

"Right now, that's the plan," Landis said.

Sunday's champagne and Landis' fifth yellow jersey of the Tour were possible thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime ride Thursday in the Alps that put the Phonak team leader back in contention, one day after a disastrous ride dropped him from first to 11th, more than eight minutes back.

Oscar Pereiro of Spain finished second overall at 57 seconds back, and Germany's Andreas Kloeden was third, 1:29 behind Landis.

Australia's Robbie McEwen won the green jersey given to the best sprinter for a third time, and Denmark's Mickael Rasmussen earned the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber for a second year. Italy's Damiano Cunego, 25, won the white jersey as the best young rider.

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