This is Dave Shields back with another of my bi-weekly Tour de France posts. Saturday’s time-trial was the first major opportunity to sort out the true contenders in this year’s race. Time-trials have been called, “The race of truth.” Unlike the draft driven road stages (described in my post last Thursday), in a time-trial there’s nowhere to hide. Each man leaves the start house alone at two minute intervals. The main thing that separates winners from losers in a time-trial is the ability to respond to massive doses of self-inflicted pain by inflicting even more pain.
The always colorful Floyd Landis proved that he’s a master at this discipline. He used Saturday’s time-trial to vault himself into second place overall. Floyd is one of the most fascinating guys I’ve ever met. He was raised Mennonite near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He used to ride his bike to a favorite fishing hole with his buddies, but soon he decided that he enjoyed the pedaling portion far more than the worm drowning portion of his day. He dedicated himself to cycling like a man possessed. The stories of his training regimen are legendary. At twenty years old, Landis left his religion behind, but not his commitment to his family or the work ethic they’d instilled, and he’s subsequently become one of the greatest cyclists America has ever produced.
At this year’s Tour de Georgia I had several opportunities to talk to Floyd. He’s soft-spoken, yet firm. He’s incredibly intense, yet kind. In short, Floyd is a paradox in every way. While looking for a Web link to convey to you how impressed I’ve been by both Floyd and his family in the various meetings we’ve had I stumbled across this bombshell from the New York Times. In short, due to a degenerative bone disease Landis’ should have had his hip replaced years ago. Looking at the x-rays, his doctor commented, “This is the hip of a guy who, if he were just a weekend warrior, would have problems with everyday living.” Instead, Floyd has turned in one of the most remarkable years we’ve seen in modern cycling. I knew Landis had injured his hip years ago, but I had no idea the condition had become chronic. In our meetings I had noticed that Floyd walked with a slight limp, but like everybody else, I thought nothing of it. This news has taken my respect for Floyd to a new level.
So why is it that cycling produces so many stories of this caliber? As you continue to learn about the sport I think you’ll begin to understand. Road bike racing at the pro level is almost inconceivably difficult. It attracts competitors who are driven to push the limits of human performance, and it ruthlessly discards the weak. In the Tour de France, what we’re left with is a microcosm of life on an incredibly intense scale. If you don’t believe me, please consider tuning in on Thursday (7/13) for the first really tough mountain stage. The 2006 Tour de France is about to become epic, and you don’t want to miss it.
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