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Floyd Landis - Peeking Into the Soul
By Staff
Date: 7/20/2006
Floyd Landis - Peeking Into the Soul

Peeking Into the Soul
When I looked Floyd in the eye I knew that I was talking to someone special. He contains a sort of controlled rage… an insatiable desire to accomplish big things… a passion to prove himself.

By Dave Shields

Today Floyd Landis did the impossible. In an era of incredible technology, where all of his competitors knew exactly how far up the road he rode, where all of the team directeurs were able to watch him turn the pedals on their dashboard television screens and gauge how much fight he had left in him, Landis replaced a deficit of over eight minutes with a much more agreeable one of only thirty seconds. In the process he vaulted from eleventh place overall to third. Floyd is suddenly back within striking distance of victory. I’ve seen a lot of cycling in my day, and while I’m certain that some will disagree with me, I’ve never seen a performance like this.

In an article on yesterday’s stage I wrote that I believed Floyd would emerge from his disastrous Stage Sixteen all the better for the experience. I said that because I’ve had the good fortune to speak with him on several occasions, and that gave me an idea of what he was made of. When I looked Floyd in the eye I knew that I was talking to someone special. He contains a sort of controlled rage… an insatiable desire to accomplish big things… a passion to prove himself. While speaking with Floyd, I felt like I was in the presence of an unstoppable force.

Tour of California Stage 7 - Floyd and daughter on the podium.
Photo c. Vaughn Trevi

Much has been made of Floyd’s Mennonite upbringing. There can be no question that it’s a defining detail of his life. I’ve met his parents and couple of his sisters. They are solid people. Like them, Floyd seems to have mastered kindness, humility, work ethic, and resilience. In those respects, he’s doing the Mennonite tradition proud. In another respect, he’s left the Mennonite life behind. "My parents are good people; we get along fine now," Landis says. "But that life wasn't for me. I was determined to get out, and I knew my bike was the only way."

Stage 16 - Floyd struggles to finish, led by team mate Axel Merckx.
Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti

Even given my high opinion of Landis, I didn’t believe it would be possible to make such a turn-around in one day. Yesterday on the slopes of La Toussuire Floyd was a shattered man. His steely gaze had been replaced by hollow confusion. It appeared to me that he’d pushed himself beyond bonking. Re-filling the gas tank would not be enough. He seemed to have succumbed to muscle fatigue and mental exhaustion. I thought Floyd’s Tour was over.

Floyd Landis solo 500 metres from the summit of Joux Plane.
 Photo c. Ben Ross

Obviously I underestimated the determination born of urgency that drives Landis. For him, there is no tomorrow. His hip condition dictates that if he doesn’t win this Tour now, the goal might go forever unfulfilled. He’s put his hip replacement off for years because he knew that despite constant pain, his injury wasn’t limiting his performance. There are no guarantees that the prospects with a comfortable hip will be the same, and he’s not a big fan of “comfort,” anyway. All of this is critical, because living life without a Tour de France victory is a prospect that Floyd Landis is not willing to entertain.

So last night over beers Landis re-set his sights on the 2006 race. To erase such a deficit would take more than urgency and strength. It required clear headed tactics. Here again, Landis and Phonak delivered. They turned their weaknesses into strengths, fooling their opponents into assuming that a desperate man was making a suicide maneuver. When an early break went, Phonak didn’t put a cyclist into it. As big an aid as sending a teammate up the road could have been, doing so might have scared the competition into chasing once Floyd made his own attack.

When the peloton reached the first foothills Floyd put the hammer down. He went way too fast for so early in the stage. Although his competition initially reacted, one by one they seemed to satisfy themselves that he’d gone mad. Landis shot them a few well-placed, wild-eyed glares over the shoulder to cement the impression.

Here he turned another weakness into an enormous strength. Yesterday his team was unable to supply him with sufficient water and food, but breakaway rules mean that his team car could deliver food and water directly to him for the entire day. He took lots of it. According to the Phonak doctor, Floyd drank twenty bidons of water today. It was rare to seem him without a bottle in his hand, usually either drinking or pouring it over his head.

I’ll never forget the body language of the breakaway riders in the moment Landis overtook them. Incredulity quickly gave away to awe. They scurried into his draft like homesick ducklings who’d finally located their mother. He re-paid their enthusiasm by dropping them one by one. Yesterday’s shattered man was shattering all comers today.

But breaking legs prior to the final climb is one thing. Closing the deal is another job entirely. There’s no question that the army of Floyd’s doubters was still very strong as he came within fifty kilometers of the finish, and there is a high probability that those ranks contained the Directeur Sportifs of some of the premier teams in cycling. When these key decision makers finally changed their minds their teams began to chase full bore. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as Floyd held them off.

A bike ride may seem to some such a simple thing, but it can be so much more. In those moments on the Joux-Plane Floyd elevated this one from gutsy to memorable to epic to legendary. He added an exclamation point with a descent that put thirty additional seconds into all chasers. What a ride! What a victory!

Floyd in yellow.             Photo c. Ben Ross

Afterwards Floyd was asked what this win meant to him. "I don't care,” Floyd answered. “I came here to win the Tour de France."

Wow. Thank you for delivering a breathtaking performance, Floyd. It’s hard to imagine we will ever see its equal (though I have to admit the Tour de France has made me feel this way many times before). It’s the world’s greatest sporting event.

What a paradox this must create for his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors. Television isn’t exactly the most embraced of innovations where Floyd came from. Will they be willing to use it to see where he’s gone? Let’s hope so, because the people of Lancaster County deserve to experience this story. Paul and Arlene, you ought to be mightily proud. Your boy done good today!

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. His sequel, The Tour, is receiving widespread praise for introducing doping issues from the perspective of the athletes. He’s often seen discussing these topics on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox News. By special arrangements with the publisher, personalized copies are available through the Daily Peloton by clicking here.

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