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The Legend of Landis - Part Two
By Tim Maloney, Cyclingnews.com European editor
The story of Floyd Landis is among of the most intriguing to emerge in the world of pro cycling in the last few years. The 26 year old Temecula, California resident, originally from Lancaster, PA burst on to the international scene in 1999 with a startling 3rd place finish in the Tour de lAvenir as a rookie road racer. Landiss most recent accomplishments were runner up in last months Criterium de Dauphine-Libere, and his selection to the United States Postal Service team for the 2002 Tour De France. Landis is a key member of a new wave of mountain bikers like Cadel Evans, Michael Rasmussen and Miguel Martinez who are making a successful transition to road cycling.
As you may be aware, Cyclingnews has an exclusive diary from Floyd Landis during the Tour, but we thought you might want to get to know him a little better. So we sat down with Floyd at the USPS team hotel in Luxembourg on July 4; Independence Day for the people of America - and for the month of July at least, France has become "land of the free and the home of the brave".
Cyclingnews: Supposedly you were showing up on these training rides in San Diego that spring and were really strong
Floyd Landis: They (Mercury) were holding a training camp in Northern California and Will and I drove up to do 3 or 4 races there. That was in February in 99 and I got 2nd in one and 3rd in another it was like 15 (Mercury) guys against Will and I so it wasnt if I got 2nd,, they certainly were were gonna notice it. I think Gorf (Fraser) won and I got second one day Moninger won the other and I got third.
One day after that, John Wordin called my house, just out of the blue. I had no idea who the guy was maybe I should have done some research on who he was. He said This is John Wordin, can I talk to Floyd? So I said hes not here, whos this? Uh this is John Wordin, I run the Mercury cycling team and I was lookin to see if he wanted to do some races with us. This was a week before Will and I were getting ready to do Sea Otter and the Napa Valley World Cup (mountain bike races). That was the last time Ive ridden a mountain bike; Ive never ridden one since.
CN: That was late March / early April 1999?
FL:Yeah so Wordin said he was going to be in Sea Otter and that I should come talk to him there. So I said yeah, ok but I cant do the race because Im going to race my mountain bike. I went to talk to him but I didnt understand what was going on. It was like he automatically assumed I was going to ride for him. I went over to the (Mercury) team truck and it was like give (soigneur) all your sizes and everything. Give me your email address and Ill get you a bike and Ill take care of everything. So I thought yeah, whatever I gotta get outta here. Two weeks later, I got a ticket in the mail this was his communcation skill level coming through here. So we did the Three Days Of Redding, then we went from there to Willamette. That was the first race I did with Mercury.
At that point I was on the team, but I wasnt getting paid anything. I dont know what I was doing I was having fun. I didnt have a job anyway and I was done mountain bike racing. So I figured this is great, these are some fun guys to hang out with. I was having fun racing and I actually got third or second in the Three Days Of Redding. I had the lead but I crashed in the crit or something. Then at (Tour Of) Willamette I got 5th or 6th. All things considered, I had a pretty good season even though I hadnt done more than 7 or 8 road races in my life. So in about June, Wordin said how about we start paying you $500 a month and you turn pro and do Philadelphia with us?
I was making a decent amount in prize money, good enough to get by on so I said sure, whatever.
CN: Mercury was dominating the American racing scene then
FL:Yeah I didnt know how much people were getting paid. I didnt do any research. I figured if it was anything like mountain biking, $500 a month was at least something. So I said yeah, sure, fine.
CN: Had you ever seen a bike race as big as Philly?
FL:No, I was impressed I was told by other riders what it was going to be like, and I figured there would be a lot of people, but I realized it was a big deal!
CN: Philly isnt very far from where you grew up.
FL:Yeah, I got to go race in Lancaster and see my friends I was having a good time. (1999) would have been one of the most fun years I had racing my bike. The Mercury team was well organized and everything was take care of. I didnt have any huge plans or anything. I mean whatever I was getting paid was better than nothin, so and I liked the guys on the team.
CN: So there you were in mid-June 1999. You were a pro road racer, and kind of by accident.
FL:I mean, in the back of my mind it was what I wanted, but I didnt have any plan involved at all. I didnt have any way of there was never a time where I said to myself this is what Im going to do, It was more like I was gonna quit (mountain biking) so this is better than nothing.
I wanted to experience (road) racing in Europe because I had read a lot about it and it seemed intriguing to me. But at the time, once again, it was a long shot. I was having a good time racing in America, its stress free and theyre not super-hard races.
I guess the best thing that year was we went to the Tour de lAvenir. And I got the lead and finished third, so
CN: Did you know about the Tour de lAvenir? Had you ever heard of it before?
FL:No Id never heard about it before it was the middle of the year when Wordin told me we were going to do it so I said ok great.
CN: That Greg LeMond and Miguel Indurain had both won (TDA) before?
FL:Yeah, they said that and I thought it was a pretty big deal. Lets go check it out..fine, whatever. Greg LeMond won a lot of races; I didnt know. It was probably the best thing that I hadnt raced in Europe at all so I didnt know what I was getting into. They just said try and get in a break and I tried like crazy. One day three or four days in I got in a break and we got some time I mean, I had really good fitness because I hadnt been burned out from racing all year, I had done races in the US so I wasnt tired. Once I got the lead, I thought Ill try to win the race; I mean, Im here, Ive got the (Maillot Jaune). But I was a bit outclassed or outnumbered by the Banesto team and I got third. They beat me on the Tourmalet. We had a couple of climbs before that.
CN: The Tourmalet is one of the most legendary mountain climbs in cycling. It was the first big col the Tour De France ever climbed.
FL:Its a big mountain, I can tell you that! A long one, man. It went on forever
CN: Was that the first time you had ever ridden up a big mountain like that?
FL:Yeah I did enough mountains in San Diego and other places but in the US, you dont race on mountains like that ever. Maybe the Red Zinger or something in Colorado. So I knew it was gonna be a long, hard climb so I figured I got nothing to lose now, so gave it everything I had and finished third.
Before that, I had already signed a contract (with Mercury) for the next year (2000). They offer me $15,000 or something. That was more than Im getting now so I figured Ill stay aroung and Im having fun.
CN: $15,000 a month?
FL:(Laughs) You are working on a whole different scale there! Like a little more than a thousand dollars a month.
CN: In 2000 and 2001 with Mercury, were there any racing accomplishments you were proud of?
FL:We did some good races. In 2000, we did Criterium International. We came back again and did the Tour of Swiss and Tour Of Luxembourg. After those two, I was pretty sure I wasnt cut out for this. I thought I just got my ass kicked
CN: What do you mean?
FL:We did Philadelphia that year and Henk won and one day later, we flew to Europe and one day later, we started Luxembourg and one day off after that, and we started Tour of Swiss.
And man, I just was finished. I didnt Its easy to to look back and say what was I thinking, how could I expect to go fast doing that. But you dont mind, you get there and you think ok Im gonna race as fast as I can. But theryre hard races; they dont get much harder than the Tour Of Swiss. But I did pretty well actually in the (TOS) time trial, I got 12th or something, so I figured ok maybe somebody will notice and I can come over here and race. Also I got 11th or 12th in the time trial in Criterium International.
We came back to Europe again in 2000 for the TDA, but before that, we did small 2.4 stage race called the Tour Of Potieu-Charrante and I won that race. The we did the TDA and I got 4th, which was more difficult than the year before. I had been such an unknown I could just do what I wanted to, but when you have the #1 plate (dossard ending in #1, signifying team leader), people dont just let you go in a break anymore and get 8 minutes. Igor Flores won those Basque guys come out of the woodwork, man. But they love it there we did the (Tour of) Basque Country and Bicileta Vasca last year and its good, hard bike racing there.
CN: So you had finished the Tour Of Swiss and Tour de lAvenir and where where things with the team?
FL:Wordin was telling us that we were going to have a big team and be able to race in Europe most of the time. It looks good; Mercurys going to put a lot of money. But somewhere along the line after the TDA, as he was hiring new guys, he got way out of control and probably hired way too many people and probably spent twice as much money as he should have.
CN: As I understand it from a conversation I had with (John) Wordin at the Worlds in Plouay, Mercury was buying riders at the end of 2000 so they could get enough points to get into the 2001 Tour De France.
FL:Yeah, for what ever reason. I guess you can assume that was his reasoning. I guess he decided he was going to spend what ever he had to spend and as I was told by team staff, he was offering people ridiculous amounts of money. Not me, but people who werent on the team.
Some of these riders told me that they only got paid through March or April (of 2001). No one knows how long the intention was to pay these riders.
But the big goal was to get in the Tour De France. Thats all (Wordin) ever talked about. But right from the beginning of 2001, he implied enough that he knew we didnt have enough money (to get through the season). He even directly told people every once in a while that were not going to make it past October or September if something doesnt come happen.
So it was stressful right from the start (of 2001) and (Wordin) didnt have the logistic things in order.
CN: So its two years after your first ride in the Tour de lAvenir and the Tour De France seemed like it was in reach.
FL:Yes, it seemed possible. When I agreed to stay with (Mercury) it looked like it was going to be a good team. I didnt do a whole lot of research into other teams. I figured that I knew what I was getting into here and I wont put myself through a lot of stress trying to learn a new team. I wanted to go to Europe (to race) with guys I know. I stayed in touch with Dan Osipow (USPS); he had called me the year before after Avenir, but I had already signed a contract (for 2000). So the following year, I didnt do any research it looked like everything was going to be fine and the team was growing at a rate that was consistent with how I was growing (as a rider). So I didnt want to put myself through an undue amount of stress going to, say, a French team with people I couldnt even relate to. At least, I thought, I could do a one year deal with (Mercury). At the time it seemed like a reasonable thing to do, but right from the beginning of (2001), things started going downhill. When theres always in the back of your mind you might do the Tour De France but als you might not get paid next month, its its too hard a sport to be going through that. If they just said were not going to pay you, youre not going to make any money but you can do this for fun, that would have been easier. Because at least I wouldnt have been wondering, I wouldnt have based my life on that certain lifestyle. I would have still wanted to race my bike because I like doing it.
We did well in Pari-Nice, but the guys that Wordin hired were not the right guys to get (Mercury) into the Tour De France. That was the problem right from the start. No matter what those guys did Van Peteghem doesnt want to do the Tour de France, he wont started the Tour De France. Well he would have started if he had to but he was gonna go home he was a good guy to have on the team for the classics but that wasnt gonna get (Mercury) in the Tour. He had a lot of (UCI) points
CN: What happened after Paris-Nice?
FL:Right from there, things started unraveling. I did a couple of classics; Fleche Wallone and Liege and then the Tour of the Basque country and then I went back home (to San Diego) for a couple of weeks in late April (2001). So (Mercury) came back and said weve got to do something to get into the Tour. They did the Midi-Libre and Teteriouk won the time trial or something but didnt win the race. The we did the Dauphine and Tonkov got second. It was a good result, but
Once again, Im not taking sides here. I think a lot of people were wrong. I think the Tour De France may have done the wrong thing (not selecting Mercury). They need to come up with a fair standard to put the teams in. Im not gonna say that they should have or shouldnt have put (Mercury) in. Either way, they need to come up with some consistent rules. Otherwise, how does a team like Mercury know who to hire? You just dont know taking wild guesses and (TDF) does whatever they want. These are subjective decisions based on how they feel that day. At the time I was really a bit offended that they didnt put us in.
Based on (Mercury) (UCI) point standings, and them taking TT 2 teams well I dont know. If their decision was based on that Wordin does ridiculous things, like his driving in the caravan, never listens to the commisaires and is always the first car, if its based on that, well OK, rightfully so.
CN: I still think that if Tonkov had won the Dauphine that Mercury would have been selected for the Tour. It was very close.
FL:Yeah well I didnt finish the Dauphine or the Route Du Sud, and I went home after that. When I found out that I wasnt getting paid that month, things were very bad. By that time I knew we werent getting in the Tour so I just didnt care. How can you race when you dont care? It takes way too much effort
CN: What did your wife Amber say?
FL:She was pissed off at me! She was saying what are you doing? Youve got to get results, how are you going to find a (new) team? But it goes two ways; you gotta get results but youve gotta have some things before you can get the result so it was just a big mess Wordin said ok were gonna bring you back (to Europe) to do these races but when he realized I wasnt going to stay on the team, he said he didnt have the money to bring me back, but then he brought other guys back.
CN: How did you get signed to USPS?
FL:I have an agent, Michael Rutherford and he was helping me out and we were talking to them even before (Mercury) didnt get into the Tour. I asked him to call them to just keep in contact. So Mark Gorski was very good; based on a very small amount of results (in 2001), he gave me a chance. So I said ok Im gonna make the most of this no matter what happens next, I dont care. Im on the best team in the world now and Ill show that I can do it.
So I went home and didnt train a whole lot in the winter. I had done that in previous years and was tired by June. So I thought well, Ill take my chances and Ill have an OK spring Ill be good in June and July, and if they put me on the Tour team, then it pays off. Otherwise I would try to ride the Vuelta and get some results later. From other years, I know that if I came out strong in the spring I was making a mistake if I wanted to go fast in the middle of the year. Once again, I wasnt so motivated to train through the fall so I had a good bit of rest, more than Ive had for years.
CN: Do you have a coach?
FL:Yes, my coach is from San Diego, his name is Arnie Baker and hes been helping for 6 years. Hes a really intelligent guy and good to talk to when things are going up and down.
CN: Are you using SRM training?
FL:Not yet I just got one a month ago, but Ive never used one before. I need to have something to compare (SRM) to so I have to use it for a while before I can understand any of the information. I cant just look at the numbers and base (decisions) on somebody elsess numbers.
CN: What would you be doing today (July 4th) back home if you werent at the Tour?
FL:Thats hard to say since I was 15 or 16 years old, I thought Im gonna be a professional bike racer no matter what. Even a couple of years ago when I was done with mountain bike racing, I didnt have a clue what I was going to do. I was scared. CN: Except to succeed?
FL:Yeah! I was convinced I could do it, but I came close, but even then I couldnt come up with a back-up plan cuz I never even stopped to think about it. I figured Im gonna make it (as a professional bike racer). I guess I got lucky I did get lucky in a lot of ways. There are probably a lot of guys who did (what I did) and it didnt work. Its not just thinking yourself or willing yourself to do it theres a lot of things I didnt have control over.
Floyd got a call from his wife Amber and daughter Ryan on his cell phone, calling from his home in Temecula, California, so we wrapped up his Cyclingnews interview.