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Landis resurrected in Tour de France cycle contest
Landis resurrected in Tour de France cycle contest
American Landis made the greatest comeback in modern history of cycling to challenge to win the Tour de France!
Landis' daring ride propels him back as Tour favorite
By JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
July 21, 2006
MORZINE, France (AP) -- It was a ride to make Lance Armstrong and Eddy Merckx proud -- except even they never quite managed what Floyd Landis did.
Landis' swashbuckling solo on Thursday ranks among the most dramatic rides in the history of the Tour de France, assuring the American a place in cycling legend the day after his victory hopes seemed dashed.
"Landis was gone, finished, condemned ... and then a magnificent comeback," said race director Jean-Marie Leblanc, calling it "the best performance in the modern history of the Tour."
Because of their superiority, neither Armstrong nor Merckx ever had to turn around such a huge deficit the way Landis did.
Armstrong, who won a record seven straight Tours, and Merckx, who won five times, were often totally in control of their races.
Landis started Thursday's 17th stage more than 8 minutes behind leader Oscar Pereiro. Psychologically, he was reeling from the blow of losing the yellow jersey to Pereiro the previous day.
Instead of wilting further, Landis jumped from 11th place to third, cut Pereiro's lead to only 30 seconds, and moved within 18 seconds of second-placed Carlos Sastre.
After years of clinical domination by Armstrong -- 2003 apart -- Leblanc could not contain his delight.
"We now have three riders separated by 30 seconds ... it's wonderful. Bring on Saturday!" he said.
With Friday's 18th stage favoring sprinters, time gains or losses are unlikely, so Landis should head into Saturday's time trial as the favorite.
In stage 7, Landis was 1:10 faster than Sastre and 1:40 quicker than Pereiro in the first time trial.
Having clawed his way back up the mountain, Landis will not want to let another chance slip in his favorite discipline.
Under a burning sun, Landis' solitary escape in the Alps made his rivals seem like they were pedaling backward -- and mirrored the panache of great riders of past years.
"I have searched my memory and I can't remember a performance like that," Leblanc said. "There was Eddy Merckx in 1969, but Merckx was in the yellow jersey, not like Landis."
Frenchman Bernard Hinault, the five-time Tour winner, called Landis "a real soldier."
Leblanc has headed the Tour since 1989 -- the year another American, Greg Lemond, beat Laurent Fignon of France on the final day by just 8 seconds.
Landis will gladly settle for that margin after almost everyone wrote him off -- including Johan Bruyneel, his team director at U.S. Postal for three years when he was a support rider to Armstrong.
"I have been on the Tour for 28 years and I am wracking my brain thinking what I can compare it to," said Paul Sherwen, a race commentator for the Outside Life Network.
"What Floyd did today was a move by somebody who has nothing to lose," Sherwen added. "It might pay off once in 50 years ... it did."
Andreas Kloeden of Germany had been in third place overnight, and dropped to fourth, nearly 2 minutes behind Landis.
Sastre finished second to Landis, but 5:42 behind. Pereiro was seventh, trailing by 7:08.
Riders set off from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and covered three hard climbs before the speedy descent into Morzine.
Landis trimmed an extra 30 seconds off Pereiro's lead by earning bonus points for winning and placing well in sprints.
The Pennsylvania native jumped out in front at the 45-mile mark along the first tough climb up the Col des Saisies.
"I was pretty sure they weren't going to follow me," Landis said. "They all thought it was pretty crazy!"
Michael Rogers, whose job was to help Kloeden, seemed in awe.
"Landis was like a motorbike," said T-Mobile's Rogers. "He was going 40 kilometers per hour (24 mph) up a mountain."
His face beaming, Landis strolled to his team car under early evening sun after a mandatory post-race doping control.
Wearing a white T-shirt, he climbed into the Phonak car passenger seat and greeted reporters with a genial grin.
The questions were as fast and furious as his pedaling speed.
His answers were simple, yet revealing.
Landis said he drank some beer to drown his sorrows after Wednesday's crushing loss -- and expected he'd down a couple more brews to toast his first career Tour stage win.
Stay cool, keep it simple.
Racing alone out in front for so long suited Landis well.
He was close to the team car -- meaning he could grab refreshments at will -- and it reflected his introvert, yet strong, character.
"It was nice to be alone," Landis said. "It was an advantage."
After denying himself for years to help Armstrong win, Landis' mellow demeanor has finally cracked, and a fierce ambition emerged.
When he recounted the win, it was like listening to Armstrong himself.
"OK, yesterday I had a bad day and couldn't control it," Landis said. "But, one way or another, I was going to make whoever wins this Tour deserve it."