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News feature, July 25, 2006
Landis on Landis: "I'm just an ordinary guy"
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Phonak's Floyd Landis talked with reporters yesterday afternoon via a teleconference from his happily undisclosed location in a hotel room in Paris. One of the most popular topics was that of his upcoming hip surgery, and how he thinks it will affect next year. "What I am trying to do is not fix the mechanical problem, it is trying to fix the pain," Landis explained. "Mechanically it works now, it is just that the pain can be unbearable."
Landis said that he is confident he will be able to return to racing in time for next season, and that the thought of this ending his racing career has entered his mind. "What is going to take time is that I will have to stop riding for a while, and whatever fitness or muscle loss will be what I will have to overcome. Yeah, I would be sad if it was over now. I love racing my bike. I can say that having won the Tour I am a little more calm about it."
Landis also said that he will remain with his current team, which will become a U.S. sponsored team next year when iShares takes over as title sponsor. However, it was pointed out that his honesty about his hip problem might have hurt his marketability, especially in terms of endorsements. "I assumed it may be the case," he said. "I predicted it when I decided to tell people about the problem, but it's just another challenge -- like the bad day I had to deal with -- I see it the same way. Whether or not I will be as valuable later, we will have to wait and see. But I can say a lot of people predicted negative things about me when I had a bad day and I would take a lesson from that."
Those two days
Of course, many reporters wanted to know more about the epic two stages where Landis appeared to lose the Tour and then restored his chances in one of the most remarkable comebacks in decades. "I was tired and had low blood sugar, so I was depressed at the end. Once I got my head together was to make a statement that I was going to come out and fight. I didn't have any misconceptions that eight minutes was almost impossible to make up. It was a hail Mary pass! I just wanted them to know I was still there and still fighting. At the risk of losing whatever place I was in, because I was there to win.
"Looking back it was a smart thing to do. Before I could have guessed it would happen because the other guys had ridden as hard as they could the day before because they saw I was dropped and wanted to get as much time on me as possible. And I couldn't ride hard, so I actually had an easier day then. I think they misjudged that I really wanted to make up the eight minutes."
While Landis was experiencing the lowest lows and highest highs of the race, the French paper L'Equipe ran a cartoon first blasting Landis for blowing up in the maillot jaune one day and then showing him victorious the next. Landis was asked about his relationship with the French, particularly the media, in light of the less-than-stellar relationship of his maillot jaune predecessor Lance Armstrong.
"I think they have been fair to me. I try not to get offended by that kind of thing. And from their perspective I might think the same thing. Up until that point I had raced conservatively and had not attacked at all. I was happy not to win a stage and just maintain my position without going over and above.
"The reality is I didn't have any choice. I needed eight minutes and that was the last mountain stage so I had to attack. It wasn't a statement to show them that they misjudged who I was."
A representative from the U.S. Olympic Committee could not resist asking Landis about the future, specifically if he is thinking about the 2008 Olympics, but Landis is staying realistic. "I hope I am in a condition to race in Beijing in 2008. I haven't made it a goal of mine because I have lived with this the past two years and have gone one race at a time. But I would not mind being there!"
Burning beer question
Possibly the biggest question, most from the amateur racers looking for any edge to win like Floyd, is what about the beer? "What else can you do after a day like that?" Landis asked in return. "I'm just an ordinary guy with a talent to ride my bicycle. After a day like that I didn't see a reason to sit in my hotel room and dwell on it. So we went down to a little bar down the street. It was sunny out and we say on the patio and had a beer, and tried to figure out what to do next."
And the rest, as they say, is history.