While the Eagles training camp and Brett Myers’ return to action in Philadelphia is the big news in these parts, the most riveting and exciting televised sporting event was Floyd Landis’ clutch performance in Saturday’s time trial in the penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour de France. From those just flipping around the dial it looked like nothing more than a bunch of guys in tight clothes riding bikes, but for those who knew what was at stake, it was sports at its best.
Better yet, it was impossible to turn away from.
Landis, the 30-year-old star from Lancaster County whose story and background is now well known, came into the time trial in third place, trailing by 30 seconds. But 30 seconds was not a lot to make up for Landis, who is known for his strength in the time trial. All Landis would have to do is ride as hard as he could, avoid any mechanical issues with his bike, and don’t crash.
Sounds easy, but think of the pressure. Anything less than the best effort would go down as nothing but a big choke – especially since the entire cycling world had its eyes glued to Saturday’s action.
Making it more interesting is the fact that Landis is headed for hip replacement surgery when the Tour ends. In fact, Landis’ degenerative hip injury is similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s football career. Because of that it’s quite possible that this could be his one and only shot at winning the Tour.
“I have to say that since it’s a dream of mine, and having hip replacement puts that in jeopardy, that having won the race, I’ll be much more relaxed” about the surgery, Landis told The New York Times. “I don’t feel like my life is a failure if I didn’t win the race, but it’s a dream, and I’d be extremely disappointed if that was taken away by an unfortunate accident.
“I’ll fight as hard as I have in this race to come back next year or the following year, whatever it takes to be back.”
But tomorrow’s race toward the Champs-Élysées in Paris should be just a formality with a 59-second lead squirreled away. Certainly such a lead was unfathomable earlier this week when Landis dropped from first place all the way to 11th after a seemingly monumental collapse during the 16th stage. At that point all of the cycling experts wrote Floyd off as cracked, beaten and battered. He was finished, just another rider chewed up in the Alps in the most grueling race on earth.
Then the next day the unthinkable happened. Landis had the day of his life – until Saturday’s time trial, that is – vaulting all the way to third place by making up nearly eight minutes.
Those same experts that wrote Floyd off jumped back on the bandwagon by calling him a “Legend.”
Whether Landis ever makes it back to contention in France again is of no consequence now. He is truly a legend on his way to becoming the just the third American to win the Tour de France, joining Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.
During the 1980s, Greg LeMond was looked at by kids like me as one of the baddest men on the planet. He won awe-inspiring Tour not once, not twice, but thrice. Americans started to race bikes because of LeMond. And then came Lance who took it all to another level by actually transcending his sport to become a celebrity and a cyclist.
Now comes Landis – from Conestoga Valley High School over on Horseshoe Road. He bought his bikes at Green Mountain Cyclery in Ephrata, Pa. just like all everyone in the know from Lancaster.
“Talents like Floyd come along once in a lifetime,” said Mike Farrington, the owner of Green Mountain Cyclery, to the Harrisburg Patriot News.
Once if we’re lucky.
Don’t forget about Furyk
Yeah, that’s right… Floyd Landis might be getting all of the attention in Lancaster right now, but homeboy Jim Furyk fired a 66 on Saturday to crawl to within two shots of Tiger Woods heading into the final day of the British Open.
Imagine if Furyk wins the British Open on the same day Landis wins the Tour de France… bottle up that Lancaster County water and sell it as a magic elixir to anyone dreaming of athletic glory.