Landis Regains Lead, Is Poised to Win Tour
Sunday, July 23, 2006
PARIS, July 22 -- American Floyd Landis has given the Tour de France its greatest roller coaster ride in years.
In Saturday's final time trial through the Burgundy countryside, the 30-year-old Landis reclaimed the top overall position for the fourth time in 19 days of racing.
Though Landis is poised to become the third American to win the Tour de France Sunday in Paris, his 59-second lead over Spain's Oscar Pereiro, the potential for errors and the unexpected twists of this year's race leave just enough suspense to make the final stage a true test of skills and perseverance rather than a largely celebratory victory lap down the Champs-Elysees.
"I could not be happier -- it's one of the best days of my life," Landis said in an interview with France 2 television after slipping into the leader's yellow jersey. "Hopefully I won't give it away this time. But I do think it's over now."
Landis has lost the yellow jersey each of the three previous times he claimed it during this Tour de France.
Ukrainian Serhiy Honchar won Saturday's time trial -- a 35.4-mile course through the hedge-lined lanes and small villages of the Burgundy wine and cattle region -- in 1 hour 7 minutes 46 seconds. German rider Andreas Kloeden was 41 seconds behind in second place; Landis was third by 1 minute 11 seconds, and Pereiro placed fourth, 2:40 behind.
Landis, who was raised in a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania, holds the overall lead because of his cumulative time over 19 days of racing and the additional points he won at various stages of the Tour. Landis's victory would be the 11th by an American; Greg LeMond won three (1986, '89 and '90) and Lance Armstrong seven straight (1999-2005).
"I told everyone in January that we were going to do it," an exuberant Landis told TV crews at the finish line Saturday in Montceau-Les-Mines. "There were times when it looked a little less likely, but I kept believing."
Just three days ago, in the second stage of the grueling Alpine stretch of the race, Landis's chances for victory looked doomed. After winning the yellow jersey Tuesday, he all but collapsed on Wednesday, dropping to 11th place and more than eight minutes behind the leader. Colleagues and commentators alike were writing his Tour de France obituary and speculating that his degenerative hip condition may have contributed to his dismal performance. Landis is scheduled to undergo hip replacement surgery in August.
But on Thursday he resurrected his chances with a Herculean effort that won the final Alpine stage and vaulted him to third place overall, turning an already competitive race into the kind of cliffhanger that has been rare for the Tour de France in recent years.
The yellow jersey hasn't changed torsos so many times since the 1987 Tour de France. Seven riders have worn it, prompting the French to dub this year the " Tour Fou " -- the crazy Tour.
Armstrong's retirement last year opened the race to a new champion. The day before this year's race began, several of the top contenders -- including the four riders who finished behind Armstrong in 2005 -- were pulled from the race by their teams because of allegations they used illegal drugs and other medical enhancements.