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Amber Landis: The Interview, Part One
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 10/27/2006
Amber Landis: The Interview, Part One

I've had it in the back of my mind for quite awhile that Amber Landis would have a lot to say about her life since husband Floyd's Tour de France win in July. I was curious to hear how a doping charge affected an entire family. Too often the athlete is cast aside as though his life no longer has value once positive tests are revealed, and it has always bothered me that there was more to the story that wasn't being revealed, a more human side to the drama.

I sat down with Amber at her home in California on October 2, just a few days after Floyd's hip surgery. We talked. In fact we talked a very long time. Amber's view is fresh and personal, honest and enlightening. She held back nothing in the telling of her story.

If you're here to read about scandal or numbers, you won't find any of that here. This story is not about the science; it's about the heart.

Daily Peloton: To start with Amber, I'd like to get a brief overview of how you met Floyd, how long you've been married, just broad strokes of your life.

Amber: We've been married for 5-1/2 years. We met in San Diego. Floyd lived across the street from the school where my mom and I worked at together. Floyd's roommate was David, who was my mom's age. David started dating my mom and about a year later they introduced me to Floyd.

Photo c. Cathy Mehl

Daily Peloton: Is Floyd Daddy to Ryan?

Amber: Yeah, yeah, he is.

DP: When you first got involved with Floyd, did you have any idea or concept what it would be like to be involved with an elite athlete?

Amber: No, no, I didn't know anything about cycling. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The first time he left (for a race) it was only for two weeks, if that, for Malaysia. Then it got longer and longer each time he was gone.

DP: So you said, Oh, this is what we're doing!

Amber: So this is how it works!

In terms of dedication to training and racing, how difficult was it to adjust to living the life of a cyclist's wife?

The biggest adjustment was just being by myself. That was really it. Except when he was home he would have to watch what he eats and he was always training constantly. But mostly it was just him being gone for long periods of time.

You and Ryan had to adjust to that?

Well, we didn't have to adjust too much because it was just the two of us before we met him. He had to get used to us!

Photo c. Ben Ross

When Floyd made the move to Phonak to race with Tyler Hamilton, I presume that wasn't too big a deal because he was just changing teams. But when he became the leader of the team, were you concerned about the new role he would be taking on?

No, not concerns really. I knew he could handle it. It's was what he was shooting for. It just came earlier than we had expected, so I guess the concern was that he was stepping into a role he wasn't ready for. Nobody at the team knew how to accept him that year. He wasn't supposed to be the leader but he ended up being the leader. So he was careful; he didn't want to step on anyone's toes.

Did you feel the elevated status and responsibility was something your family was ready to handle?

We weren't worried. I don't think that would have necessarily changed the way we work. It was his job.

As it became evident that Floyd was going to make a sincere effort to win the Tour as the team leader for Phonak, how did your family life change to accommodate his new training schedule?

This is going to be a really boring interview because it didn't really affect things! He always trains a lot. He always trains a lot. He was actually home more this year than he'd ever been. But he always, always trains. That's his job and that's what he loves to do. If it's a sunny day and he's not on his bike, he's not a happy guy.

We'll talk in a little bit if he's hard to live with right now! Come on Amber, let's go have a margarita and really talk! (We both laugh.)

In 2006 when Floyd was training hard and getting his wins at Tour of California, Paris-Nice and Tour de Georgia, were you starting to believe that his dream of a Tour win could come true this year?

Yeah, we always knew that it would happen, we just weren't sure in which year it would happen. Stuff always kept happening, like his broken hip. But the hip was working and everything was going as planned.

Did the two of you talk much about his Tour ambitions?

It was just a known thing. That was always his goal. That's why he did this. I guess that is every cyclist's dream. It was scary. He'd had really good races, but then the Dauphine came and he wasn't feeling it AT ALL so that was a little scary. I think that was the most scary part. Otherwise it was just a known thing that this was what he was going for, this was what he was doing. It had to be his year. We didn't know where the hip was going and we pretty much figured he'd have to have surgery right after the Tour was over. We didn't know after that if he'd be able to continue, so it had to be this year.

What role did you play in Floyd's quest for the win? Would he bring his doubts and concerns home and talk to you about them? Or would he only talk to his coaches and trainers?

It depends how giving he is that day. He doesn't like to talk about things too much. I have to pry things out of him.

Floyd: The problem is that I feel like I've been talking about everything. It's all just in my head and I don't realize I never said anything out loud!

Amber: That's the thing! He's always thinking it in his head, and he thinks his head talks to my head!

Daily Peloton: Wow, busy up there!

Floyd: Well, nothing's getting done!

Amber: Every once in awhile I can get something out of him, like about the hip and that it was hurting. Otherwise I wouldn't know unless it was a bad, bad day. I finally had to tell him I wasn't a mind reader and he needed to tell me when the hip was hurting so I could adjust to that. He doesn't communicate so much!

In the lead-up time right before the Tour, was Floyd already in Europe? Had he stayed there after the Dauphine?

No, he came back. It was a big secret, but he came back. It was unheard of for a top Tour contender to come home right before the Tour, but he wasn't good (in the Dauphine) over there. I don't know what he was thinking. He went to Switzerland and it was yucky weather there and he was on his own. It needs to be nice weather when he trains. If it's gray and cloudy and rainy it just doesn't work for him. So he came home for ten days and then went back the week before the Tour.

Was Ryan's life affected much by this lead up time? Was it kind of chaotic here at home getting ready for the Tour?

She's kind of oblivious to it. And for as long as she's known Floyd that's always the way our life has been with him. It was nothing different, except he was home more this year. That was the difference.

When did you get to the Tour?

I got there the last rest day, on a Monday (July 17th). I followed each stage from there. It was a little tricky with Ryan because I'm cheap. I didn't want to buy a ticket for her if he wasn't going to win, and I didn't want to jinx it either by buying it too early. I go over every year so it was no big deal for me.

You weren't going to be the jinx, only Ryan?

Right, I go every year so that wasn't going to be a problem. So we bought a ticket and then he had his bad day, so I cancelled the ticket that night. Then obviously he had (good results) Thursday so I had to re-buy the ticket again. It was kind of hectic because at one point when I was trying to re-buy the ticket there was only one first class ticket available for $5000!! And my mom and her husband were going to travel with her, but I didn't want her to sit in first class and they sit in coach plus I said I was not spending $5000! Luckily they did find a ticket at the last minute. They left on Friday and traveled all day, so they got there on Saturday. They arrived in Paris and they stayed in Paris, so actually I didn't get to see her until Sunday and she left on Monday, so they were only there for two days. They only came to see him win.

Describe for me your feelings when Floyd first took the yellow jersey, before you had gotten there. (Stage 11)

It was exciting, but we knew it wasn't going to stay. So it was exciting that he had it and no matter what the Tour had been a success, but we knew he wasn't going to keep it.

Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti

What was Floyd's attitude about having it?

I think he was excited. It's a big deal for an American to have the jersey. I think we knew the team wasn't the strongest from the get go, so we knew it wasn't going to be permanent. So, yes, it was exciting, but you just have to keep focusing on the race. A lot more racing to go.

You were there then for his Bad Day. Can you walk me through that day?

We had a bit of a drive and we were going to the finish. I was with David Cathcart of Saris. I knew it was going to be a hard day and I had talked to him right before he left just like I always do: Have a good day, kick some ass. My normal stuff I say to him. But he sounded a little different: Don't worry, I'll be fine. He just wasn't fine, so I think I was worried. I think sometimes he hates that I say that stuff to him everyday, so he doesn't get too excited about it. We got to the finish and had passes to watch from the OLN camp. I could tell right away he wasn't okay. I think some people were thinking he was faking it, but I knew it wasn't going to be a good day. Then he got dropped and the second I saw him get dropped I was done. I couldn't watch anymore.

Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti

So I stood behind the trailer, couldn't hear anything. I was thinking to myself, Are you kidding me? I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe his dream is over. But then someone told me he was back on so I came back in to watch some more and almost immediately he got dropped again. I could not watch him go through that. SO I have no idea what the rest of the day looked like! I just sat there and kept thinking ,What am I going to say to him? What on earth am I going to possibly say to him that's going to make it ok? And I had no idea what I was going to say to him. I want to say that I held my composure, but people tell me they saw me crying. I think I held it together until I knew he'd finished, and then I walked to our car and I think I started crying there.

I couldn't find him, but I did know where his hotel was. All I wanted to do was see him. I finally found his hotel and I planned to hold it together, I was going to hold it together, and the second he opened the door I lost it completely. I just laid on the bed with him, and told him it was ok. I told him I wasn't going to love him any less because he wasn't winning the Tour. I think he told me he was sorry. I said, What on earth do you have to be sorry about? I mean yeah, it would've been rad but it doesn't change our relationship. I just hung out with him for a little bit and he told me he was going to do a press conference. I said, What, are you crazy? Just stay here with me! But he just knew people would keep asking and asking and asking what happened so he wanted to get it over with and stop dwelling on it.

I sort of stuck around for the press conference. I didn't realize it was going to be such a big deal that he was having a press conference. We were coming around the corner and all these cameras started going off, so I just tucked myself out of the way. I couldn't really hear anything. That was it, so we left. There wasn't any reason to keep dwelling on it, and we had a long drive. I told him to have a good day the next day, try to get a few minutes back and then deal with the rest in the Time Trial on Saturday. At least maybe get on the podium. But we weren't too hopeful, at least I wasn't. He wasn't counting on it either.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Amber discusses Floyd's best day on a bike, and perhaps the worst day of his life.

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