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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 July 2006, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Outlandish Landis
By Bryn Palmer

Floyd Landis celebrates reclaiming the yellow jersey after Saturday's time-trial
Landis is the third American to win after Greg LeMond and Armstrong
No more Lance. No Jan Ullrich, no Ivan Basso. Who the hell was going to win the 2006 Tour de France?

That was the question three weeks ago, and remained so until Saturday, when Floyd Landis seized overall victory in the final time-trial.

The retirement of Armstrong, and the withdrawals of the two favourites - caught up in a Spanish doping investigation - appeared to have robbed the race of star quality.

But what followed, by popular consent, was the most open, entertaining and unpredictable Tour in living memory.

In Landis, it also produced a winner and a story that will be etched deep into Tour folklore, regardless of whether he ever races in another.

The 30-year-old American will shortly undergo hip replacement surgery, the outcome of which will determine the course of the rest of his career, if indeed he still has one.

"I choose to believe that I will come back and it will be fine because it won't be painful anymore," he says.

LOWDOWN ON LANDIS
1975, October: Born Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
1990: Buys first mountain bike
1992: Junior National Mountain Bike champion
1993: US National Mountain Bike champion
1995: Moves to California
1998: Switches to road racing
1999: Joins Mercury pro team
2000: Wins Tour du Poitou-Charentes
2002: Joins US Postal, races in first Tour de France
2003, Jan: Breaks hip in crash
2003, July: Helps Armstrong win fourth Tour de France
2004: Wins Tour d'Algarve
2005: Joins Phonak, finishes ninth in Tour de France
Mar 2006: Wins Paris-Nice

Given the debilitating nature of the condition - advanced osteonecrosis, with superimposed osteoarthritis - his prospects with a good hip can only be enhanced.

Landis walks with a limp, cannot cross his right leg over his left, always has to get on his bike by putting his right leg over first, and starts to feel pain after three or four hours of riding.

Even more remarkable perhaps than winning his sport's most physically daunting event with such a handicap was keeping his condition secret from his fellow riders until a week into this year's Tour.

By that stage he was a minute off the lead and favourite to succeed former team-mate Armstrong, who he helped to three of his seven Tour wins.

After establishing himself as the Texan's top support rider, Landis grew frustrated at having to sacrifice his own ambitions and accepted an offer to become a team leader at Phonak in 2005.

"I learnt a lot from him, even if our relationship was complicated," Landis says of his time at Armstrong's US Postal team, later to become Discovery Channel.

"There came a time when I wanted to lead my career as I wanted. I was responsible for certain tensions between us, I admit it. I am not always very reasonable."

It was the one of most humiliating things that ever happened to me

Floyd Landis after his stage 16 collapse
His decison looked vindicated when, on stage 11 this year, he slipped on the maillot jaune for the first time, only to relinquish it two days later to Spaniard Oscar Pereiro.

Some veteran Tour observers considered it sacrilege to surrender the jersey - Pereiro was allowed to make up a 29-minute deficit - but Landis considered it a risk worth taking, preferring his team to save their energy for the Alps.

And the 2006 Tour will be remembered, above all else, for two dramatic days that ensued on some of its most infamous mountain stages.

Before they started, Landis admitted he would love to win the Tour "with panache", but said it was no longer possible. "I have to be careful, even if it is less spectacular," he said. How wrong he proved to be.

Floyd Landis is consoled after finishing stage 16
Landis appeared to be down and out after his collapse on stage 16
His conservative tactics appeared to be working as he looked comfortable on the classic Alpe d'Huez climb, regaining the overall lead without pushing for the win on stage 15.

But the following day brought a spectacular collapse on the final climb up to La Toussuire, after a devastating attack by Spanish rival Carlos Sastre.

Landis - who later blamed his collapse on what cyclists call "bonking", running out of energy after not eating enough during the stage - appeared to be pedalling through treacle. He lost 10 minutes to his rivals in a tortuous last 10km.

"All I felt when I finished was humilitation and depression," he said. "That was not in any way part of my plan."

Landis was written off as a bluffer, a rider who had failed the Tour's ultimate test; a cartoon in French sports paper L'Equipe ridiculed him under the headline "Landis a craqué".

But not everyone had given up on him.

Tour legend Eddie "Cannibal" Merckx, whose son Axel also rides for Phonak, was quick to offer consoling words, and more importantly, advice on what to do next.

Known for his daring solo raids over the mountains, Merckx told Landis to follow his own legendary example, and he duly produced one of the Tour's all-time great comebacks.

Floyd Landis plies himself with water during his epic stage 17 victory
Landis' solo win on stage 17 was the stuff of Tour legend
Not since Merckx performed a similarly stunning long-distance counter-attack after a painful defeat in 1973 could anyone remember such a daring solo victory.

Landis took off on the first climb of stage 17, quickly passed an earlier break and led for 120 of the 200km to Morzine, winning by nearly six minutes and cutting his deficit from eight minutes to 30 seconds.

"After the disaster the day before, I didn't have any choice," Landis said.

It cemented his reputation as a slave to pain, and propelled him to the attention of the wider sporting public, a new superstar of his troubled sport.

Landis grew up a Mennonite - a Christian community which rejects any influence from the modern world - in Farmersville, Pennsylvania, without television, computers or alcohol.

He pursued his dreams against the wishes of his parents, leaving the family homestead, where his brother and four sisters still live, at the age of 20 to move to California.

There he switched from mountain biking to road cycling, starting a journey that reached a triumphant conclusion atop the Tour de France podium in Paris on Sunday.

"I don't pretend to know what's going on in life," Landis said after ending the lingering three-way fight for overall victory with his performance in Saturday's time-trial.

"But I had good parents who taught me that hard work and patience can get you a lot in life. It just took me a while to get the patience part."



SEE ALSO
Awesome Landis takes Tour crown
23 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Armstrong lauds successor Landis
23 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Landis set to claim Tour victory
22 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Landis roars back with epic win
20 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Armstrong backs favourite Landis
18 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Popovych battles to solo victory
14 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Arthritis
11 Apr 03 |  Medical notes
Battling Landis to ride in pain
10 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Drug probe forces out Tour stars
30 Jun 06 |  Cycling


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