A lesson from the best

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Floyd Landis got an up-close look at the art of winning while a member of Lance Armstrong's team.

PARIS - Riding with Lance Armstrong taught Floyd Landis some key principles he used to win the Tour de France: Forget pain, overcome mishap, crush self doubt, and focus only on your victory.

"I'm glad that a guy who came through our program has won," Armstrong said Sunday. "We can take a small bit of credit for helping develop Floyd."

Landis now proudly owns a yellow jersey similar to the ones Armstrong won the previous seven years.

Landis sealed the most unpredictable race in years on Sunday. Earlier in the week, he seemingly threw away victory, and then regained it within 24 hours with one of the best rides in the race's 103-year history.

"I kept fighting, never stopped believing," Landis said, shortly after he received the yellow jersey on the podium.

Armstrong says the U.S. Postal team, now called Discovery Channel, gambled on Landis when he joined from the Mercury team in 2001.

"He had a mountain of debt because they [Mercury] didn't pay him," Armstrong said. "We're the one who gave him the opportunity. For us, there's a bit of a moral victory there because you gave a guy a chance to ride for you, to learn from you."

Landis admits he learned well from his time spent at Postal, where he rode under race director Johan Bruyneel.

"It was an experience, spending 100 percent of time and energy believing it is possible to win," Landis said during a press conference on Saturday.

Holding his cap in his hand as the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played on the winners podium, Landis only allowed himself a smile once the anthem was over.

He plans soon to have replacement surgery on an arthritic right hip, but hopes to be back next year -- when Armstrong also hopes he'll be racing for Discovery.

"He's a damn good rider," Armstrong said. "We would take Floyd back."

Landis regained the lead from Oscar Pereiro of Spain with a strong performance in Saturday's time trial and ended up 57 seconds ahead of Pereiro in the overall standings.

Learning about commitment

When Landis sweated for Armstrong between 2001 to 2004, it was a total sacrifice. He got that commitment from his teammates this year.

"It's a risk placing everything on one person," Landis said Saturday. "It's the best way ... that's what I got [learned] from Armstrong."

Although they did not suffer the same types of pain, they both share an ability to overcome it.

"His strength was not his team," Armstrong said. "His strength was his mind and his will."

Armstrong overcame cancer to win his first Tour in 1999, and Landis has been racing with a hip so damaged it needs to be replaced. He delayed the operation to try for this Tour.

Turning humiliation into triumph also manifested itself in both riders.

When Armstrong suffered during the 2003 Tour, battered by dehydration and losing massive time to Jan Ullrich during a time trial, he appeared to be on the ropes.

Following that, he fell off his bike on a mountain climb up to Luz Ardiden -- when a spectator's bag had tangled itself up in his handlebars. Then, his pedal jammed, almost causing him to fall again, and he looked like he was about to lose the Tour.

Instead of reeling, he got angry, roared back up the mountain and destroyed his rivals in an astonishing display of mental strength.

Landis did a similar thing at this Tour.

On Wednesday, he suffered terribly in the Alps, losing huge time as he chugged upward slowly under a burning sun. The climbs -- the mammoth Col du Galibier and Croix-de-Fer -- took so much out of him that he ended up 8:08 behind Pereiro.

A few hours later, Landis said "my chances of winning the tour are very small at this point, but I will keep fighting."

The following day, he produced one of the great Tour rides, breaking out on a punishing mountain climb and riding alone for hours to pull to only 30 seconds behind Pereiro overall.

"It was something that will stay with me forever," Team CSC rider Stuart O'Grady said. "The biggest ride I've ever seen ... I was having a good day and he made me feel like an amateur."

Head straight, mouth closed, eyes fixed, legs moving with relentless conviction -- it could have been Armstrong himself.

Having learned the art of winning, Landis now has only one hurdle left to overcome -- his modesty.

His sense for the dramatic, his panache -- mixed in with a never-say-die attitude -- have made Landis a darling of the French public the way Armstrong was not.

A French fan, Claude Camut, watching on the Champs-Elysees, said: "Lance, you never saw him lose, or have a moment of weakness. You got the feeling it was easy for him."

While Armstrong dominated so clinically, Landis restored a dash of daring to cycling.

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