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
Tour of California Stage 7 - Floyd and daughter on the podium.
Photo c. Vaughn Trevi www.dailypeloton.com
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
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 His steely gaze had been replaced by hollow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.
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
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
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
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