Cycling: Landis the Tour king celebrates a triumph of survival
Monday 24 July 2006
For the eighth year running - and the 11th time in 20 years - The Star Spangled Banner rang out over the Champs-Elysées yesterday afternoon as Floyd Landis succeeded his American compatriot Lance Armstrong as the Tour victor.
"It's been a triumph of persistence," the 30-year-old said afterwards about one of the most memorable Tours in recent history.
The final day's bunch sprint, very much the Tour's traditional way of signing off for another year, was taken by the prologue winner Thor Hushovd. But in the three weeks separating Hushovd's two victories there has been little of the conventional - starting with the winner himself.
Landis, the Mennonite and former mountain biker, has teetered on the edge of disaster on more than one occasion in a highly unstable race which has equalled 1958's record number of leader changes - 11. "This Tour," as his team manager, John Lelangue, put it, "has been uncontrolled and uncontrollable since day one."
After the event was thrown into confusion by the exclusion of three of its favourites before it started, Landis had his own minor crisis of confidence when his back tyre split just before the prologue.
The American survived the first week unscathed, but came within inches of heading home in an ambulance when his time-trial bike hit a roundabout on the race's first long time trial at Rennes. And his physical vulnerability was underlined at the first rest day in Bordeaux, where he revealed that his right hip had been reduced to half its original size by osteonecrosis - which means that the head of his femur is literally crumbling away - and would have to be replaced in the autumn.
"The pain keeps me awake sometimes at nights," Landis revealed, but he also insisted that he would not let his imminent operation keep him from fighting for the Tour. Briefly in yellow after the Pyrenees, Landis broke the unwritten rulebook by allowing the Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, who had previously been half an hour down, to move into the lead in the second week and ease the pressure on his own squad. And Phonak's calculated risk seemed to have worked when the American regained a fragile control of the overall lead at Alpe D'Huez - though he was roundly criticised for his conservative tactics, for which he was unapologetic.
But 24 hours later two weeks of strategic riding went up in smoke when he cracked on the Toussuire climb, and lost more than 10 minutes on his rivals for the maillot jaune.
The American romped back into the frame the next day, however, with a heroic 135-kilometre break on the last stage of the Alps that regained almost all the time he had lost. "I didn't have to calculate any more," he said. "I worked on rage."
Pereiro, whose lead was shredded to 30 seconds as a result of Landis' breakaway over five Alpine climbs, said: "I have to take my hat off to Floyd. Winning the Tour after what he did in the Alps would have been a minor miracle."
Pereiro was unable to fend off Landis in Saturday's final 57km time trial, which saw the American move into yellow for a third and definitive time: perhaps the only predictable moment in a Tour where sudden, spectacular reversals of fortune had become the norm.
"I proved what I was capable of after such a terrible defeat," Landis said. "It ended up being a great show, and this victory has happened through a combination of hard work, a good team, and above all, good fortune." But in such a chaotic event it is surely those who make their own luck, like Landis, who end up bringing home the goods.
Following eight years of American domination of the Tour, the 2007 race will pay homage to Britain's contribution with a London start and a stage on the Mont Ventoux, 40 years after the death of the 1960s Tour hero Tom Simpson on the same climb. Four decades after he died due to dehydration, Simpson remains an emblematic figure for Anglophone cycling, the pioneer for British and Americans in what was very much a mainland Europe event.
After two days in England, the 2007 Tour will also visit Ghent, where Simpson lived for a time, before stages in the Vosges, Alps, and Pyrenean mountains as well as the Ventoux.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'
Roll of honour
Floyd Landis (US)
* POINTS WINNER
Robbie McEwen (Aus)
* KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
Michael Rasmussen (Den)
Damiano Cunego (It)
Americans in Paris
* GREG LEMOND: 1986, 1989, 1990
The first American winner, he stepped from out of the shadow of his team leader, Bernard Hinault, to take the 1986 Tour. He came back from a hunting accident to win in 1989, by a record 8sec from Laurent Fignon, and 1990, from Claudio Chiapucci.
* LANCE ARMSTRONG: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
The brash young Texan, a former triathlete, won the road race world title in 1993 but seemed finished when he contracted testicular cancer in 1996. He famously fought back, however, to take a record seven consecutive titles.
* FLOYD LANDIS: 2006
Like Armstrong, his former lieutenant has triumphed in the face of apparently insurmountable medical problems. With the Tour de France won, the 30-year-old American is finally to have the hip replacement he so badly needs.
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