Landis Wins Stage in Huge Turnaround
Turns out, the flat screen televisions at Smooth’s Sports Grill in Long Beach were playing the wrong highlights.
About 100 people, brought together to promote the 2007 Amgen Tour of California bicycle race, were ignoring the video of Floyd Landis winning earlier this year in Redondo Beach to speak in awe about Landis winning Thursday’s 17th stage of the Tour de France in Morzine.
Landis, a Pennsylvania native who resides in Temecula, rode to a stunning victory in the Tour’s final mountain stage. A day earlier, he had crumbled on another climb and tumbled from first place to 11th, seemingly out of contention to succeed seven-time winner Lance Armstrong and become only the third American winner of the race.
French newspapers wrote that Landis had the worst performance in Tour history. But the 30-year-old, who said two weeks ago that he would soon need a full hip replacement, rebounded to ride alone to victory by almost six minutes.
The effort jumped Landis, who rides for the Swiss Phonak team, from 8 minutes, 8 seconds behind race leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain’s Caisse d’Epargne to third place, 30 seconds behind Pereiro and 18 seconds behind Carlos Sastre of CSC.
It sets a dramatic stage for Saturday’s 35.4-mile time trial. The main yellow jersey contenders are expected to ride cautiously today and let sprint experts such as Australia’s Robbie McEwen battle for points.
As guests arrived for the announcement that Long Beach would play host to the final stage of the Tour of California on Feb. 25, 2007 -- it will start in San Francisco on Feb. 18 -- Shawn Hunter, president of AEG Sports, which runs the California race, asked anybody he could find, “Did you see Floyd’s ride?”
Rocked by drug allegations against Armstrong and an on-going Spanish investigation into illegal blood doping that forced their teams to send home Tour de France contenders Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, cycling has been looking for a new hero or anything positive to spin.
The Spanish scandal cost one team its major sponsor, the Boston-based insurance company Liberty Mutual. And, according to some cycling insiders, it might cost CSC its El Segundo-based major backer. CSC executives were not happy when Basso was linked to illegal doping.
Yet Hunter was able to smile Thursday and say, “What Floyd did today shows why AEG is in the sport. It was what Lance did. It was an unbelievable human performance, one of the greatest ever.”
After claiming the leader’s yellow jersey Tuesday in a stage that had a mountaintop finish at L’Alpe d’Huez, Landis lost 10:04 to Pereiro on Wednesday. On the final climb, Landis had been barely moving and was without any assistance from his team.
Chris Carmichael, Armstrong’s personal coach, suggested on his website that Landis suffered from a nutrition deficit when his lagging teammates were unable to make runs to the Phonak car and replenish Landis’ food and water supply. Cyclists call it “bonking” when they reach an energy breaking point on physically exhausting stages, and Carmichael thought Landis had “bonked.”
Before Thursday’s final mountain stage, rumors ran through the Tour that Landis would withdraw.
But Landis was at the starting line, and only 45 miles into the 124.3-mile stage he attacked, powering into the lead and proving that Wednesday was an aberration.
“Yesterday was a disaster,” Landis said at a post-race news conference. “I didn’t have my team work for three weeks to give up after one bad day. I didn’t expect that I could do it quite that well. I thought the race might be a bit disorganized if I attacked that early. You saw what happened.”
A cycling time trial is called “The Race of Truth,” because the riders take off one by one, racing only against the clock. In the first of the Tour’s two time trials almost two weeks ago, Landis finished second. He was 1:40 faster than Pereiro and 1:10 faster than Sastre on a 32-mile route. Saturday, the riders will be tested on a hillier, more technically difficult ride from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines.
Paul Sherwen, a former racer and now a commentator for Outdoor Life Network, which is televising the Tour, said after Landis’ collapse Wednesday, “You could watch the Tour de France for decades and never see what happened to the yellow jersey happen. There is nothing you can say to an athlete going through this situation.”
Thursday, as Landis was flying down the final descent and pumping his fist victoriously at the finish, Sherwen said, “I think we’re watching a piece of history in the Tour de France today.”
Frenchman Bernard Hinault, a five-time Tour winner, was quoted by the race organizers as saying, “I’m a big fan of Floyd today because I like the way he races. He was just saying, ‘I was bad yesterday but I’m the best and I’ll prove that today.’ ”
Pereiro and Landis had breakfast together Thursday. After the stage, Pereiro told Spanish radio, “I thought Floyd was eliminated and after his big demonstration he now has the Tour de France in his hands. Landis was spectacular today. This has been one of the most incredible days in cycling.”
They were cheering in Long Beach, too.
Pucin reported from Los Angeles.