Sports: American Landis wins Tour de France
July 22, 2006
Paris — The highs and lows of Floyd Landis’ nail-biter of a bike race ended without a hitch Sunday as he won the Tour de France and kept cycling’s most prestigious title in American hands for the eighth straight year.
The 30-year-old Landis, pedaling with an injured hip, cruised to victory on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elyses, a day after regaining the leader’s yellow jersey and building an insurmountable lead in the final time trial.
“I kept fighting, never stopped believing,” Landis said, shortly after he received the winner’s yellow jersey on the podium, joined by his daughter, Ryan.
Landis picked up where another American left off last year, when Lance Armstrong completed his seventh and final Tour triumph. With the victory, Landis becomes the third American — joining Armstrong and three-time winner Greg LeMond — to win the Tour.
“I’m proud and happy for Floyd,” said Armstrong, who watched the finish on TV from a luxurious hotel room near the Champs-Elyses. “He proved he was the strongest, everybody wrote him off.”
“I’m very proud that an American has won again,” he added.
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As the “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Landis, cap in hand, stared solemnly at the crowd. But when the anthem ended, he broke into a smile and waved to the fans.
Landis, who plans to undergo surgery this fall on an arthritic right hip injured in a 2003 crash, said he hoped he would be able to return next year.
“Right now, that’s the plan,” Landis said. He dedicated the win to Andy Rihs, owner of his Phonak team.
Sunday’s champagne and Landis’ fifth yellow jersey of the Tour were possible thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime ride Thursday in the Alps that put the Phonak team leader back in contention, one day after a disastrous ride dropped him from first to 11th, more than eight minutes back.
Oscar Pereiro of Spain finished second overall at 57 seconds back, and Germany’s Andreas Kloeden was third, 1:29 behind Landis.
With Armstrong retired, the Tour was blown even more wide open on the eve of the July 1 start when prerace favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, plus seven other riders, were sent home after they were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.
Norway’s Thor Hushovd won the final stage Sunday of the three-week race. He had also won the Tour prologue on July 1.
Assured of victory, Landis hoisted a champagne glass handed to him from his Phonak team car early in the 154.5-kilometer (96-mile) route from Sceaux-Antony to the capital.
A day earlier, Landis placed third in the Tour’s last time trial, taking the yellow jersey from former teammate Pereiro and securing a 59-second lead over the Spaniard.
The deficit was virtually impossible to overcome for Pereiro in the flat, short final stage because Landis and his team eyed the Spaniard closely to make sure he didn’t try to break away.
Landis, a former mountain biker who toiled for three years as a U.S. Postal Service team support rider for Armstrong, had sought to apply the Texan’s meticulous strategy for winning — until what Landis called “disaster” struck on Stage 16 in the Alps on Wednesday.
His plan to allow Pereiro to take the yellow jersey temporarily as the race left the Pyrenees at the end of week two appeared to backfire after Landis lost the jersey in a second Alpine stage at La Toussuire.
With a stunning stage win in the last Alpine stage on Thursday, Landis erased more than 7-1/2 minutes of his 8:08 deficit to Pereiro — putting him in a prime position to win by outpacing the Spanish rider in the final time trial Saturday.
For the finish Sunday, Russia’s Viatceslav Ekimov, 40, led the peloton — or rider pack — as it arrived for the first of eight laps on the famed Paris avenue to honor him as the Tour’s oldest rider. It was his 15th Tour — one shy of Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk’s record.
Australia’s Robbie McEwen won the green jersey given to the best sprinter for a third time, and Denmark’s Mickael Rasmussen earned the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber for a second year. Italy’s Damiano Cunego, 25, won the white jersey as the best young rider.