Floyd Wins Le Tour
American Floyd Landis completed his victory in the Tour de France yesterday
in the race's 20th and final stage into Paris. Finishing in the main
pack, he secured his final winning margin of 57 seconds over Oscar Pereiro.
The day was a ceremonial affair, with Floyd and his Phonak teammates sipping
champagne and celebrating at the beginning of the stage, then leading the
peloton onto to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in what has become a
traditional honor for the team of the winner. Phonak then slid back
a couple of positions in the group to allow the other teams to battle out
the stage. As the peloton crossed the line, Landis and co. were seen
hugging and congratulating each other on an amazing victory.
The only available prize on the day was the prestigious stage victory itself,
which was won in a sprint by Thor Hushovd of Norway. Outsprinting favorite
Robbie McEwen, who started his sprint too early, Hushovd collected his second
stage victory of this year's Tour. His other was the opening stage
prologue that saw him briefly in the maillot jaune. It was disappointing
for McEwen, whose team did a lot of work in disrupting and pulling back a
dangerous 14 man breakaway in the final kilometers. He can console
himself though with his third green jersey victory in the sprinters competition,
finishing a massive 89 points ahead of 6 time green jersey winner Erik Zabel.
Landis's victory has now cemented him as a top rider in cycling. Riding
as a lieutenant for Lance Armstrong until last year's jump to the Phonak
team, Landis had never before been the sole leader of a team. 2006,
though, has seen a completely different Floyd Landis. Wins in the Tour
of California and the Tour de Georgia, America's two most prestigious stage
races, as well as the overall victory in Paris-Nice (the traditional season
opening race in Europe) showed that Landis had reached another level as a
rider. Whereas last year he entered the Tour as part of a "three-pronged
attack" strategy (along with Santiago Botero and, ironically, Oscar Pereiro),
this year he has shown himself worthy of being the undisputed leader of the
His victory means it's the 8th victory for the United States at the Tour
de France in the last 8 years. This was supposed to be a recovery period
for American cycling after Lance left; now it has in fact become a continuation
of American domination, though with an entirely different set of storylines.
Landis looked confident and able throughout the Tour of achieving the top
spot on the podium. However, his now well documented collapse and then
miraculous resurrection added a drama and uncertainty not seen during the
Lance years. Lance, for all his troubles in 2003, was always the favorite
in the race and never looked beaten during his 7 year reign. His miraculous
comeback from cancer to become the greatest ever Tour champion is the greatest
comeback of all time.
However, on a purely sporting level, Landis's comeback is even more incredible.
He lost 10 minutes on the crucial stage of the Tour to La Toussuire, which
surely meant the end of his chances for the overall victory. Read any
cycling report or ask any cycling expert, and they would have all told you
he had no chance of victory. To his credit, though, Floyd said that
night, "this Tour is not over, I will keep on fighting." When no one
else believed in him, he went out the next day on the devastating attack
over the Joux Plane and into Morzine, proving every single doubter wrong.
Some people have said that CSC and T-Mobile should have chased Floyd sooner
in the stage and not let him get so much time. But they miss the point:
CSC and T-Mobile did in fact try, they simply just could not catch Landis,
he just rode them all off his wheel. He was simply too good for anyone.
When everyone else said his chances were 0, Floyd didn't care and persisted
anyway the way only true champions do. His victory is completely deserved,
and his courage in victory will go down as one of the greatest cycling exploits
Landis announced during this Tour that he will need to have hip replacement
surgery in the offseason (wait a minute, you're saying he did all of these
incredible things, and all this time he has had a bum hip?!). His return
to the top of the sport is a major question mark next year. No one
has ever comeback from hip replacement (hmm, this sounds familiar.
Top American cyclist, facing some obstacle that threatens his career that
no one has ever overcome before, where have I heard this story before?).
The task Landis faces to return next year is long and arduous. Then
again, after watching this year's Tour de France, are you really willing
to bet against anything he does anymore? I think not.
- Chris, cyclingfans.com columnist