Home Cyclingnews TV   News  Tech   Features   Road   MTB   BMX   Cyclo-cross   Track    Photos    Fitness    Letters   Search   Forum  
Tour Home
Latest Tour News
Stages & Results
Live coverage
Tour Tech
Floyd Landis diary
Brad McGee diary
John Eustice diary
Mike Tomalaris diary
Podium girl gone bad
Other diaries
Tour FAQ
Le Tour 2001
Power Tap

The Legend of Landis - Part Two

By Tim Maloney, Cyclingnews.com European editor

Read Part I

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 l’Avenir as a rookie road racer. Landis’s most recent accomplishments were runner up in last month’s 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.

Another ex-mountainbiker
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

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 wasn’t…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 “he’s not here, who’s 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 I’ve ridden a mountain bike; I’ve 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 can’t do the race because I’m going to race my mountain bike.” I went to talk to him but I didn’t 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 I’ll get you a bike and I’ll 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 wasn’t getting paid anything. I don’t know what I was doing…I was having fun. I didn’t 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 hadn’t 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.’

Floyd Landis, relaxed and smiling as always
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

CN: Mercury was dominating the American racing scene then…

FL:Yeah…I didn’t know how much people were getting paid. I didn’t 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 isn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t have any plan involved at all. I didn’t have any way of…there was never a time where I said to myself ‘this is what I’m 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, it’s stress free and they’re not super-hard races.

I guess the best thing that year was we went to the Tour de l’Avenir. And I got the lead and finished third, so…

CN: Did you know about the Tour de l’Avenir? Had you ever heard of it before?

FL:No I’d 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’.

Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

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. Let’s go check it out..fine, whatever. Greg LeMond won a lot of races; I didn’t know. It was probably the best thing that I hadn’t raced in Europe at all…so I didn’t 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 hadn’t been burned out from racing all year, I had done races in the US so I wasn’t tired. Once I got the lead, I thought ‘I’ll try to win the race; I mean, I’m here, I’ve 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:It’s 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 don’t 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 I’m getting now so I figured I’ll stay aroung and I’m 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t…It’s easy to to look back and say ‘what was I thinking, how could I expect to go fast doing that.’ But you don’t mind, you get there and you think ‘ok I’m gonna’ race as fast as I can’. But thery’re hard races; they don’t 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 don’t 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 it’s good, hard bike racing there.

CN: So you had finished the Tour Of Swiss and Tour de l’Avenir 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; Mercury’s 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 weren’t 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. That’s all (Wordin) ever talked about. But right from the beginning of 2001, he implied enough that he knew we didn’t have enough money (to get through the season). He even directly told people every once in a while that ‘we’re not going to make it past October or September if something doesn’t come happen.

So it was stressful right from the start (of 2001) and (Wordin) didn’t have the logistic things in order.

CN: So it’s two years after your first ride in the Tour de l’Avenir 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 didn’t do a whole lot of research into other teams. I figured that I knew what I was getting into here and I won’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t want to put myself through an undue amount of stress going to, say, a French team with people I couldn’t 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 there’s always in the back of your mind ‘you might do the Tour De France’ but als ‘you might not get paid next month’, it’s…it’s too hard a sport to be going through that. If they just said ‘we’re not going to pay you, you’re not going to make any money but you can do this for fun’, that would have been easier. Because at least I wouldn’t have been wondering, I wouldn’t 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 doesn’t want to do the Tour de France, he won’t 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 wasn’t 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 ‘we’ve got to do something to get into the Tour’. They did the Midi-Libre and Teteriouk won the time trial or something but didn’t win the race. The we did the Dauphine and Tonkov got second. It was a good result, but…

Once again, I’m 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. I’m not gonna say that they should have or shouldn’t 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 don’t 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 didn’t put us in.

Based on (Mercury) (UCI) point standings, and them taking TT 2 teams…well I don’t 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 didn’t finish the Dauphine or the Route Du Sud, and I went home after that. When I found out that I wasn’t getting paid that month, things were very bad. By that time I knew we weren’t getting in the Tour so I just didn’t care. How can you race when you don’t 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? You’ve got to get results, how are you going to find a (new) team? But it goes two ways; you gotta get results but you’ve gotta have some things before you can get the result so it was just a big mess…Wordin said ‘ok we’re gonna bring you back (to Europe) to do these races but when he realized I wasn’t going to stay on the team, he said he didn’t 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) didn’t 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 I’m gonna make the most of this…no matter what happens next, I don’t care. I’m on the best team in the world now and I’ll show that I can do it.’

So I went home and didn’t train a whole lot in the winter. I had done that in previous years and was tired by June. So I thought ‘well, I’ll take my chances and I’ll have an OK spring I’ll 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 wasn’t so motivated to train through the fall so I had a good bit of rest, more than I’ve had for years.

CN: Do you have a coach?

FL:Yes, my coach is from San Diego, his name is Arnie Baker and he’s been helping for 6 years. He’s 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 I’ve 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 can’t just look at the numbers and base (decisions) on somebody elses’s numbers.

CN: What would you be doing today (July 4th) back home if you weren’t at the Tour?

FL:That’s hard to say…since I was 15 or 16 years old, I thought ‘I’m gonna be a professional bike racer no matter what. Even a couple of years ago when I was done with mountain bike racing, I didn’t 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 couldn’t come up with a back-up plan ‘cuz I never even stopped to think about it. I figured ‘I’m 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 didn’t work. It’s not just thinking yourself or willing yourself to do it…there’s a lot of things I didn’t 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.

Read Part I

Other Talking Cycling Interviews

More Tour de France features