Sunday, July 23, 2006

Landis from California to Georgia to Paris

Barring incident today...well, you know the rest.

At the Dauphiné Libéré race last month, I asked two-time Tour winner Bernard Thévenet who his favorites were for this year's Tour.  He told me: "Basso, Ullrich and Landis....though I'm no longer sure about Landis after what we saw on Mont Ventoux!"

We know what happened to Basso and Ullrich on the eve of the Tour.  Their exclusion from the race left Landis as a heavy favorite for overall victory despite his poor showing on the climbs of the Dauphiné, which I think had a lot to do with wanting to take it easy and to lower expectations, and media pressure, ahead of the Tour.  But Landis clearly had gotten everyone's attention all season long, with wins at the Tour of California in February, Paris-Nice in March and the Tour de Georgia in April.  Landis's overall victory today is something of a validation of the attention the Tour de Georgia and inaugural Tour of California have gotten.  It is obviously very good for Landis and his Swiss sponsor, Phonak, but also for American cycling and the races Landis won on his own road to Paris.  Two of the past three Tour de Georgia winners have gone on to win the Tour de France.  The third, American climber Tom Danielson, by his inability to drop Landis on Brasstown Bald Mountain in April, like he'd done in 2005, helped convince me that Landis would be a serious player at the Tour this year.  That doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot but the fact is, American domination at the Tour continues today with Landis making it eight consecutive American wins and 11 of the past 21!  The Tour de Georgia has certainly been a better predictor of Tour success than the Dauphiné Libéré the past three years...

Maybe the entire peloton will start eating peaches next season...

The attention on Landis increases dramatically starting today.  That will be amplified by the fact that he is reportedly going to have hip replacement surgery in September.  Assuming he recovers well from that, Landis will now be the man that organizers look to most to bring attention to their races.  While Tour organizer Amaury Sport Organization (A.S.O.) continues to play politics with cycling's governing body, the UCI, I for one hope that Landis will continue to honor with his presence races like the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia, though those dates may be cutting it a bit close after September hip replacement!  But then, who knows....it's never been done before on the road to Paris.

- Pete Geyer