There's life after Lance

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Floyd Landis made sure cycling stayed interesting.

PARIS -- No more Lance, no more Tour de France? Hardly.

Here's the message for all those TV viewers who switched off the set or changed channels in the first Tour in the post-Armstrong era: You missed one of the best shows in decades.

Floyd Landis vaulted into the annals of cycling lore with Sunday's win in the 103rd Tour, crowning a stunning comeback.

All but written off after cracking in the final climb last Wednesday, the Phonak team leader managed a stunning rebound the very next day in the last mountain stage, pedaling like a madman to move up from 11th to third to put him back in contention.

"It was the Hail Mary pass," Landis said. "To my way of thinking, 11th place was the same as 80th place -- I didn't care, I wanted to win, so I took a risk."

In Saturday's final time trial, Landis finished third but outpaced race leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain to gain a 59-second advantage and reclaim the race leader's yellow jersey.

Monday, the victory still hadn't sunk in.

"I'm still trying to calm down," Landis said in a conference call with reporters, adding he spent the day appearing on TV, doing photo shoots and having a little nap -- which wasn't quite enough.

"I would like about a weeklong nap," he said, grousing that he had partied a bit too late.

Instead, he's off to ride in small races in Holland this week before returning to Murrieta, Calif., where he now lives.

There, he'll finally take care of his arthritic right hip.

Landis, who injured the hip in a 2003 crash, said he hopes to have the surgery sometime in the next month and plans to be racing again by next spring.

With his grit in the face of human frailty, Landis took the Tour back to its heyday when five-time winners Bernard Hinault of France and Belgium's Eddy Merckx were racing.

"Landis showed us the face of yesterday's Tour de France," said Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Tour director. "A human face, with exploits and panache."

Landis toiled for three years as a support rider for Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team -- now sponsored by Discovery Channel -- then broke out on his own to lead the Swiss Phonak squad.

Now, Armstrong, a part owner, wants him back.

"I wouldn't be opposed to going back," Landis said.

But Landis did dedicate his Tour victory to Andy Rihs, the owner of the Swiss Phonak team.

"I'm quite happy where I am actually, and the most likely scenario is that I'll stay where I am," Landis said. "Nothing against those guys, but I proud of the team I'm on now."

Landis gave the Tour some needed inspiration.

On the eve of the July 1 start, pre-race favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich -- plus seven other riders -- were ousted after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

The expulsions helped new stars move into r role when Basso was sent home.

When the ride on the Champs-Elyses ended Sunday, Landis had only a 57-second margin of victory over Pereiro and 1:29 over Germany's Andreas Kloeden -- making for one of the tightest podiums ever.

"It's been one hell of a Tour. It's been bizarre, t the limelight: Landis, runner-up Pereiro and his compatriot Carlos Sastre, who was thrust into Team CSC leader role when Basso was sent home.

When the ride on the Champs-Elyses ended Sunday, Landis had only a 57-second margin of victory over Pereiro and 1:29 over Germany's Andreas Kloeden -- making for one of the tightest podiums ever.

"It's been one hell of a Tour. It's been bizarre, the strangest Tour I've ever raced," said Australian rider Stuart O'Grady. "It's been played to the last minute. You could never have written the script."

Landis could have done without the drama. His only objective was to wear yellow on the final day -- no matter what it took.

"I would've just as soon raced a race that was boring to watch on television," he said. "But the outcome was what I wanted, so I'm happy about that."

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