I've always considered myself to be a Floyd Landis fan. The story of his Mennonite upbringing, his development into a leading mountain bike racer and his transition to the road and subsequent exploits as a key lieutenant to Lance Armstrong make for an inspiring tale. He appeared to put an exclamation point on his declaration as a leading rider of our time when he dramatically won the 2006 Tour de France after cracking on stage 16 and then mounting a spectacular comeback in stage 17. His escape was the most exciting ride that I've witnessed and was historical in its magnitude. I worked from home that morning and got totally caught up in Floyd's ride as he took a solo flyer and put minute after minute on the chasing peloton as he doused himself with bottle after bottle of water in following physiologist Allen Lim's regime of keeping his core cool*. I paced my home office in excitement and then blathered madly about the historic ride to anyone who would get drawn into the conversation. His celebratory wheelies on the Champs-Elysées put yet another decidedly American stamp on the Tour de France. Watch a few minutes of this video and you'll get a feel for how big this ride was:
And then Floyd's world came crashing down with a doping positive for testosterone, followed by years of court battles and hearings, millions of dollars spent, fans and experts divided, and ending with the loss of the yellow jersey and the two year ban of Floyd Landis from professional cycling. He vowed to return to the top of the sport, only to languish as pack fodder with a couple of continental teams.
Most recently, Landis is riding for the Bahati Foundation, with whom he made an appearance at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville. While his performance on the bike didn't get him any notice, but I took the time to look at his bio and noticed an interesting bit of positioning. Among Floyd's palmarès is the 2006 Stage 17 win in the Tour de France. Floyd doesn't claim his overall Tour win, but hasn't given up his claim to the stage that made him an international sports hero for a few short days before the doping positive was announced.
1st Stage #17 Tour de France
1st Overall Tour de Georgia
1st Stage #3 Tour de Georgia
1st Overall Paris-Nice
1st Stage #3 Tour of California
1st Overall Tour of California
1st Stage #5 Tour de Georgia
2nd Stage #7 Tour de France
2nd Stage #11 Tour de France
2nd Stage #3 Dauphiné Libéré
2nd Stage #3 Paris-Nice
3rd Stage #11 Tour de France
3rd Stage #19 Tour de France
4th Stage #15 Tour de France
4th Prologue Tour of California
7th Stage #2 Tour de Georgia
7th Stage #2 Tour of California
9th Prologue Tour de France
9th Prologue Dauphiné Libéré
12th Stage #1 Tour de Georgia
I closely followed Floyd's battle to retain his title, and feel that in any court of law he would have been vindicated over the shabby manner in which the evidence against him was handled. His willingness to spend his money and endure the fight also lent him credibility; however, he wasn't in a court of law and the rules against doping clearly favor the enforcers. Technicalities were not going to get Landis off the hook. I also really wanted to believe a guy who stayed humble and raced hard at the top of the sport, so it's difficult for me know what to think of Floyd now, as he's never come close to regaining the kind of form that one would expect from a Tour winner.
That said, I can't blame Floyd for wanting to hold onto that day in 2006 when, after being given up for dead, he defied his critics and rode his way to the top of the cycling world, if only for a few brief days. It was, indeed, a glorious ride.
* Interesting current article on Lim here: