It's a short fall from hero to villain: Floyd Landis

28th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 5, 2006 (AFP) - When Floyd Landis succeeded compatriot Lance Armstrong as Tour de France champion, the plaudits poured in for what seemed to many to be a superhuman effort - on Saturday he was confirmed as being little more than a cheat after his B sample confirmed the original findings of abnormal levels of testosterone.

PARIS, Aug 5, 2006 (AFP) -  When Floyd Landis succeeded compatriot Lance Armstrong as Tour de France champion, the plaudits poured in for what seemed to many to be a superhuman effort - on Saturday he was confirmed as being little more than a cheat after his B sample confirmed the original findings of abnormal levels of testosterone.

The quietly-spoken Landis, who grew up in a strict Christian Mennonite community in Pennsylvania, celebrated a victory that, just days before, seemed well beyond his reach.

The 30-year-old's collapse while wearing the yellow jersey on the 16th stage — the second day of climbing in the Alps — left him tumbling down to 11th place overall at 8:08 behind Spaniard Oscar Pereiro.

"All I felt when I finished the stage was humiliation and depression. That was not in any way part of my plan," said Landis, who insists he is innocent despite the B sample's findings.

It said a lot for the rider that he bounced back the next day to claim his first ever stage win on the Tour after riding practically on his own for 130km over five tough cols.

It left him third overall, at 30sec behind Pereiro and right back in the race.

But it was at the end of that stage that he returned the positive dope test that looks set to destroy a career that began in the most unpromising circumstances.

Landis broke away from his family home at the age of 19 to pursue his dream of riding his bike for a living.

The former mountain biker's "strict but loving" parents were never keen on him participating in the sport and he would often sneak out at night to ride his bike up and down the main road as fast as he could.

After getting a crucial start with the Mercury team, where he spent three years, he was soon on his way to Armstrong's US Postal team.

Differences of opinion with the headstrong Armstrong, who did not take too kindly to Landis' personal ambitions, led to him breaking out on his own and joining Phonak two years ago.

Former Mercury team manager, John Wordin, remembers when a discouraged Landis was on the point of giving it all up to go to work in a restaurant.

"He didn't have money and didn't have a job. He was about to give it all up to go and work in a friend's restaurant in San Diego," said Wordin.

"Then I saw what he could do on a bike on the Boulevard Road Race, and a month later I signed him to the team. I knew I'd found an exceptional rider."

"He's a good guy," he added. "He deserves it."

Landis admits his three-year spell with Armstrong was beneficial for his own yellow jersey bid. But there are few similarities between him and the 34-year-old cancer survivor.

"He was a big star and he had a big story. The common things between him and I, I can't say," said Landis on the eve of his victory.

For Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, whose son Axel rides with Landis's Phonak team, the American's career had only just begun with his victory in the Tour de France.

"It's always the first Tour that is the most difficult to win," said Merckx, a five-time winner who is considered the sport's biggest legend.

"(Miguel) Indurain (another five-time winner) had to ride five Tours de France before winning his first."

Floyd Landis fact-file

Date of birth: 14 October 1975

Birthplace: Lancaster, United States

Height: 1.78m

Weight: 68kg

Notable career achievements:

— 1st in Paris-Nice 2006

— 1st in Tour of California 2006 (plus 1 stage), 1st in Tour of Georgia 2006 (plus 1 stage), 1st in Tour of the Algarve 2004 (plus 1 stage), 1st in Tour of Poitou-Charentes 2000, Won one stage of Tour of Langkawi 2000.

— 2nd in Dauphine Libere Criterium 2002.

Record in Major Tours:

— Tour de France: 1st in 2006, 9th in 2005, 23rd in 2004, 77th in 2003, 61st in 2002. Winner of one stage at Morzine 2006. Five participations. No retirements.


— Tour of Spain: Held leader's jersey for five days in 2004.

Teams: Mercury (1999-2001), US Postal (2002-2004), Phonak (2005-present)

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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