“Truth be told, I don’t have great memories of the 2006 Tour. It was just so, so scandalous. It was like being a crime reporter.”
Neal Rogers was senior writer at VeloNews the year Floyd Landis emerged from Lance Armstrong’s shadow to continue the dirty American hegemony at the Tour de France. The first Tour of the post-Armstrong era was meant to be the cleanest race in years, but it was beset by controversy from start to finish – and beyond.
The summer of 2006 saw Zinedine Zidane sent off in the World Cup final for a headbutt; Pakistan’s cricket team get embroiled in ball-tampering charges; race-fixing allegations snare top jockeys and Michael Schumacher tarnishing the Monaco GP with his stalling antics in qualifying. But no rumpus was quite as big as the Operación Puerto doping scandal that plunged cycling into disrepute on the eve of the Tour. Nothing, that is, until Floyd Landis’s miraculous comeback on Stage 17.
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Less than 24 hours after the American collapsed on the final climb to La Toussuire to lose the yellow jersey, plunge out of the top 10 and drop to more than eight minutes adrift of Spain’s Oscar Pereiro, the 30-year-old pulled off one of the most brutal, clinical and inspired turnarounds ever seen in the sport. On a gruelling final day in the Alps that featured five climbs, Landis rode the entire peloton off his wheel on an epic solo quest that pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone watching.
Fifteen years on, Rogers remembers the day only too well. He was covering his second Tour on site for VeloNews, and such a barnstorming result from an American rider should have been manna from the sky. Instead, the whole thing stank to high heaven.
“The main thing I remember from Stage 17 was how Landis behaved after he crossed the finish line,” Rogers, one of the most important voices in cycling journalism, recalls. “Everyone saw him pump his fist in aggression, but few saw the moments that followed. There was no celebration, only anger, and contempt. He was all swagger and sneer; he looked as though he had just emerged from a bar brawl, and he wasn’t done fighting. It wasn’t a moment of jubilation; it was a moment of defiance, a giant ‘f*** you’ to anyone who had ever doubted him.”
And doubt him, we did. Inescapably. Already handicapped by a chronic hip condition, at Alpe d’Huez Landis had taken back the yellow jersey he should never have conceded to his former teammate Pereiro, only to lose it the next day after his cataclysmic collapse on Stage 16. There should have been no way back from an eight-minute deficit with just one mountain stage remaining – and yet Landis, if not fully restored to yellow, was back in the driving seat after a heist that would have impressed even Thomas Crown.
“At the time, it was hard to know what to make of Landis’s escapade,” Rogers says. “On the one hand, that sort of performance didn’t make sense given his total collapse one day prior; on the other hand, his total collapse the day prior didn’t really make sense, either.
“I was aware that tactics had played a major role – Landis wasn’t actually seven minutes stronger than his GC rivals on the day – but it was so bizarre that the main GC contenders at the most important race on the calendar had let the stage unfold the way it did.”
This is the story of how they did just that – and how Landis turned things round before falling back into the abyss once he had tasted the glory he so craved after all those years riding in the service of his compatriot Armstrong.

Setting the scene: from Puerto to Pereiro

For the first time in eight years, there was to be no Lance Armstrong at the Tour when the 2006 race got under way with a prologue in Strasbourg. But the breaking news of Operación Puerto meant that the two riders who flanked the Texan on the final podium in Paris just over 11 months earlier were excluded from the race.
Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich – the latter the only previous winner scheduled to start – were joined by 11 others on the sidelines, including podium candidates Francisco Mancebo and Alberto Contador (who was later cleared of any wrongdoing), after Spanish police pounced on the blood doping ring run by the infamous doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Alexandre Vinokourov, another race favourite, was not linked to the scandal but nevertheless forced to withdraw because his Liberty-Seguros team – whose licence was in the process of being taken over by Astana – was so depleted they didn’t comply to UCI guidelines, despite turning up for the pre-race presentation.
The upshot of Armstrong’s absence and the withdrawal of these headline figures meant the peloton lacked a patron, which made the GC battle a bit of a free-for-all and lacking the usual cohesion that comes with dominant teams backing dominant riders. What’s more, three days in, Alejandro Valverde – the young Spanish prospect who’d podiumed in the Vuelta and won a stage in the Alps in 2005 – crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone.
Valverde’s departure from the Caisse d’Epargne squad opened the door to his compatriot, teammate and lieutenant Oscar Pereiro, a journeyman all-rounder who’d nevertheless finished in 10th place in Paris the previous two years. Riders like Landis, Germany’s Andreas Klöden and the Australian Cadel Evans were among the second-tier GC favourites who were now dreaming of victory. “No one really knew what to expect,” Rogers recalls. “And certainly no one expected that Landis would cede 30 minutes, and the maillot jaune, to his former Phonak teammate Pereiro on a hot Stage 13 into Montélimar.”
Pereiro’s ‘Roger Walkowiak’ moment came on a sweltering but seemingly run-of-the-mill transition stage between the Pyrenees and Alps. Landis’s Phonak team opted to coast rather than chase, and when Germany’s Jens Voigt won the stage ahead of the Spaniard, the peloton didn’t cross the line for another half hour. From a lowly 46th place on GC, Pereiro was suddenly in the yellow jersey.
As expected, Landis took the lead back at Alpe d’Huez after the second rest day, but Pereiro managed to limit his loses and was only 10 seconds adrift ahead of the next stage to La Toussuire. If Landis looked relatively composed going over the Galibier, the Croix-de-Fer and the Col du Mollard the next day, his legs turned to jelly on the final grind to the finish, the man in yellow finishing a staggering 10 minutes behind the winner, Michael Rasmussen of Denmark.
All of a sudden, the rider destined to win the Tour was 11th and 8:08 down on Pereiro whom, it’s worth noting, had failed a drug test (it would later be revealed) the same day of Landis’s implosion, but was cleared after providing sufficient evidence that he had a legitimate medical reason for taking salbutamol, the banned substance in question.

Floyd Landis (USA) during Stage 16

Image credit: Getty Images

Armstrong’s not so hip replacement

A day after Pereiro’s initial opportunistic seizing of the yellow jersey, TheNew York Times revealed that the former race leader was combatting osteonecrosis, a severe hip ailment. This forced Landis and Phonak to make an announcement during the second rest day. The origin of the injury stemmed from a neck fracture that Landis had sustained in a training crash back in 2002; diminished blood supply and constricted blood vessels caused by scar tissue had severely deteriorated the ball joint of his right hip.
Landis was essentially riding though the pain barrier, with bone-on-bone friction grinding his hip, giving him an awkward pedalling position in time trials and when climbing. His right leg was two inches shorter than his left, he walked with a limp, could not cross his legs when seated, and could only get on his bike with his right leg.
While he had kept the condition unknown to the media and most of his teammates, he rode the 2006 Tour knowing it might be his last chance of glory – especially with potentially career-threatening hip-replacement surgery scheduled for the autumn. This severe pain meant Landis was granted medical approval to take cortisone during the Tour, and it might explain why he had ridden the Pyrenees seemingly within himself and not in the way that the emerging race favourite might have chosen to ride.
“I’m riding at 100 per cent of what I can do,” he told reporters on the second rest day, trailing Pereiro by 1:29. “I can’t say what would happen if I had a different hip – it doesn’t matter. It’s not one of my choices. There’s some pain. It’s hard to quantify what pain is or understand what anyone else is going through. I wish it wasn’t there. But I can’t say, in the middle of the race when everyone is in pain (though not from the same condition) that it does have an effect on the way I race or when I decide I can’t go anywhere.”
Looking back at how the condition came to light, Rogers is still convinced that there are unanswered questions. “The degenerative hip disease announcement was an interesting angle, but the fact that they’d kept it hidden for so long just didn’t sit well with me for some reason,” he says. “I’d spent time around Landis and his team earlier that season, during his wins at the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia, and there hadn’t been any indication that anything was wrong with his hip, or his pedalling. I remembered speaking with Landis back at US Postal Service camp in 2003 while he was still on crutches from the injury; I knew the timeline well, but apparently none of us understood how bad it was.”
For many, the Stage 15 showdown on Alpe d’Huez – the first of three consecutive days in the Alps after the second rest day – should have been where Landis and his Phonak team turned the screw. But instead, he moved only 10 seconds clear of Pereiro, while the likes of Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Andreas Klöden and Cadel Evans were all within three minutes of the summit.
Speaking to ITV’s Ned Boulting after moving back into yellow following Frank Schleck’s victory on Alpe d’Huez, Landis brushed away the idea that he should be riding more aggressively instead of slipstreaming his rivals all the way to Paris.
“Until now my good days have come on the right days,” he said. “Hopefully a couple more here in a row. I think the wise thing for me is to be conservative. I don’t have any reason to try and win a stage. If it works out that way, I’ll try. But I think my chances in the time trial are okay, so I’ll hold out for that. And again, I’ll play my cards conservative.”
This teed up anchorman Gary Imlach for a badum-tish moment to camera: “I’ll tell you what, if Floyd Landis gets any more conservative, we’ll have to start listing all the Labour and Liberal riders in the race just to conform to the representation of the People’s Act.”

Hero to zero after La Toussuire implosion

All talk of Landis’s lack of aggression was immaterial one day later after his Stage 16 meltdown. Summarising for Outdoor Life Network (OLN), presenter Al Trautwig explained how Landis “couldn’t get to the team car quick enough” after the crossing the line at La Toussuire, adding with deliciously unintentional clairvoyance: “He would talk to the media later, but it was: ‘Get me some IVs, get me some fluids, get me some recovery,’ as Oscar Pereiro unbelievably wears the yellow jersey again.”
That talking to the media came in the form of an unusual open-air press conference outside the Phonak hotel during which Landis, in a back-to-front cap and white T-shirt, seemed remarkably stoic and jovial for a man who had, to all intents and purposes, just lost the Tour. His explanation was simple: he’d had “a very bad day on the wrong day”. No more, no less.

Floyd Landis reacts after losing his yellow jersey on Stage 16

Image credit: Getty Images

“It was the least I could do to come down here and smile at you all,” he said. His usual goofiness and awkward demeanour taking a back seat, Landis came across that evening as entirely human. The Pennsylvanian’s entry into the sport had been far from conventional, being raised as a Mennonite – a conservative Protestant community which, among other things, frowned upon any manifestations of modern society, such as Lycra.
When he won his first junior race (in tracksuit bottoms because Lycra wasn’t an option), his disproving father upped his chores around the house – forcing Landis to sneak out at night to train without any bike lights. It’s fair to say that Landis had come a long way – only to see his dream of winning the Tour now go up in smoke. Had he thought about the next stage to Morzine, one reporter asked?
“Yeah, it’s another hard day, and things can change,” Landis replied, sounding very much like someone who didn’t believe things could change. “Pereiro was 30 minutes down and he has the lead again. I don’t expect to win the Tour at this point. It’s not easy to get back eight minutes. But I’ll keep fighting. It’s not over yet. My chances of winning the Tour are very small at this point, but I’ll keep fighting because you never know. But I wouldn’t say the odds were good if I were a betting person.”
He admitted he was “happy” to see his “friend” Pereiro in yellow, adding: “It certainly doesn’t disappoint me. He’s a good person and was a good teammate.”
Asked what he could do mentally to bounce back from the situation, Landis laughed that trademark uncomfortable, borderline dorky laugh. “I dunno,” he said. “Drink some beer? That’s what I’m thinking about now. No, it’s not so bad. I never assumed that the Tour was won at any point. I always said that you could have a bad day – and that’s why I was trying to race conservatively when I felt good.”
The hip, Landis stressed, was not a factor. “Would you tell us if it was?” one journalist asked. “No,” came the reply, and another laugh.
Rogers was present at that surreal Q&A, and admits that he felt his countryman’s chances of winning the Tour were well and truly over.
“I’m not sure there was ever a point, prior to the Morzine stage, where I truly believed Landis was going to win the Tour,” Rogers says. “After La Toussuire, I bumped into Lance Armstrong. He’d followed in the Discovery Channel team car alongside Johan Bruyneel and we had a quick, informal chat. He pretended to feel bad for Landis, and I pretended to believe him. He inferred that Landis’s GC hopes were over, and I had no reason to doubt that. He was 11th overall, and six minutes off the podium.
“It hadn’t occurred to me that Landis would have it in him to try to win the stage the following day. It never crossed my mind that he would imagine he could still try to win the Tour, let alone that he would actually attempt it. At best, it seemed he could ride in the gruppetto and then try to win the final time trial.”

Breaking away on Stage 17

If Rogers felt a comeback was beyond Landis – whom he describes as “utterly defeated” that day – then some of his fellow media personalities from across the Atlantic were not so sure. The topic of OLN’s ‘Debate of the Day’ rubric ahead of the stage to Morzine was whether or not it was possible for Landis to bounce back.
British commentary duo Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen believed it was not. “You don’t take back that kind of gap on this Tour,” said Phil; “Letting Pereiro go 15 days before the end is slightly different than letting Landis go a few days before Paris,” added Paul. But American co-anchor Bob Roll came out all guns blazing:
I think Floyd Landis can absolutely still win this Tour and what my colleagues are doing wrong is that they’re using conventional wisdom in this Tour de France, which does not apply. If you said to anybody that Oscar Pereiro would be in the yellow jersey after the stage to La Toussuire, they wouldn’t have agreed. Nobody would have predicted that a few weeks ago so anything can still happen.
OLN’s footage then cut to Frankie Andreu camped out on the Col de Joux Plane – the fifth and hardest climb of the day ahead of the final descent to Morzine. “This is where the Tour could be decided,” said Andreu, a former teammate of Armstrong at US Postal before he retired ahead of Landis’s arrival. “Sure, there’s the time trial, but this is where the leaders are going to have to protect their lead, and the chasers are going to have to attack to get closer to the yellow jersey. Pereiro will be hanging on for dear life to protect the yellow jersey. For Landis, he doesn’t have to ride conservative. Perhaps it’s a great day for him to show off his strength.
“Here on Joux Plane in 2000, Lance Armstrong had difficulty. Yesterday, we saw Floyd Landis completely explode. The riders realise that anything can happen. And for some riders, time not gained here today is time lost – especially for those who are trying to grab the yellow jersey.”
Back in the open-air makeshift studio, Roll reiterated his belief in Landis. “You can multiply the number of attacks today by about five,” he told presenter Al Trautwig. “A lot of men are still in contention, and I think Landis is going to do something special. There’s going to be absolute carnage today.”
The aforementioned men in contention were Sastre, Evans, Klöden and the Frenchman Cyril Dessel, all of whom were within three minutes of Pereiro’s unlikely Tour lead. And, as it turned out, carnage was pretty much the exact word to describe what went down on the Col des Saisies. A break of 10 riders had gone clear on the opening flat 50km run into Albertville before the road headed upwards to the foot of the first climb. The break’s advantage was 11 minutes as Landis’s Phonak team came to the front on the climb to set a hefty tempo which soon reduced the main pack of favourites down to just 30 men.
Phonak lemmings continued to peel off one by one until only Landis was left on the front. And instead of attacking forthright, the American simply continued riding at a seemingly unsustainable tempo which caused chaos in his wake. Bringing the trans-Atlantic OLN viewers up to speed before handing over to the live coverage, Trautwig said: “In poker parlance, this was the moment Landis said: I’m all in. It’s not always the right move, but it’s the bold move that can sometimes change the game.”
Change the game it did. While it was a potentially catastrophic decision to go on a kamikaze attack with 120km remaining, Landis soon found himself with just three of his rivals for company – second-place Sastre, third-place Klöden, and fifth-place Evans. He ground them down one by one, riding them off his wheel, and they slipped back to the poor excuse for a bunch where Pereiro’s Caisse d’Epargne led the chase. Phonak’s pulling had reduced the lead of the break to six minutes by the time Landis took flight – and after the descent of the Saisies, he bridged over to the leaders at the start of the Col des Aravis with 97km remaining.

Floyd Landis (L) with the likes of Carlos Sastre and Andreas Kloden for company

Image credit: Getty Images

“This is an unbelievable ride. Look at the looks he’s getting,” Trautwig said as Landis nonchalantly bulldozed himself right to the front alongside Patrick Sinkewitz, a T-Mobile teammate of Klöden. Only one more rider, Patrice Hagland, was further up the road after the Frenchman had zipped clear on the previous descent.
“Everything that Floyd lost on the road to La Toussuire yesterday he’s regained in the way of confidence and energy. And he has a really nice little group to work with now,” said Roll, as Landis robotically doused his head with water then tossed his bidon over the rail of a bridge and into a mountain stream.
“But in effect he’s still an island,” said Trautwig.
“He’s still an island,” Roll concurred, “when you consider what he needs and what these men might be capable of or are willing to do.”
Watching events pan out from the press room, Rogers’ thoughts rolled back to another suicidal move on the road to Morzine in the 2000 Tour, where Marco Pantani had attacked on the first climb in a last-ditch attempt to put Armstrong in trouble. The big difference was that the Italian had won the previous day’s summit finish – not had a total collapse. Rogers was in France that day watching the Tour as a fan as Pantani’s effort failed, and he eventually finished 14 minutes behind before abandoning the race that night. A year or so later, after the dot.com bubble burst and Rogers lost his job, he applied for an internship with VeloNews and swapped city life in San Francisco for his new career in Boulder, Colorado.
“I didn’t really understand Pantani’s attack that day, and because I was under the assumption that Landis’s attack would end similarly, I didn’t understand that, either,” Rogers admits. “But as the time gap ballooned out, it seemed that rather than attacking out of spite, he was riding for the stage win, and perhaps to get back onto the podium.”
Although they were compatriots and Rogers was writing for an American publication, he wasn’t enthralled by the idea of a Landis victory that day. But the way his rivals were riding, it was becoming more likely by the kilometre.
“The thing that has always stood out to me about the way that stage played out is that while Landis’s performance was brave and seemingly without precedent, it was also only possible due to the circumstances taking place behind him,” he explains. “It was the final mountain stage of the Tour, and everyone was tired. Landis attacked so early that no one thought that he could make it stick, and he attacked in such a way – stringing out GC contenders all over the first climb – that it took a while for the chasing group to come back together and get organised.”
As quarrels over whose responsibility it was to bring him back continued, Landis rode clear with Sinkewitz and Hagland on the Col de la Colombière, making light work of a bike change after breaking a spoke. In the commentary box, Sherwen still felt that, despite an eight-minute lead approaching the summit, it was “unbelievable” that Landis could think he could win:
“But then in this Tour de France that we’re experiencing this year, there is no rule book, it’s just a question of ride with your guts and with your heart – and I’m sure that’s what Landis is doing.”

Floyd Landis rides ahead of Patrik Sinkewitz on Stage 17

Image credit: Getty Images

Winning solo at Morzine

Landis had a maximum lead of nine minutes going over the fourth climb, the Côte de Châtillon. It had come down to around seven minutes at the bottom of the final climb, the 11.8km Col de Joux Plane, by which time the opportunity to pull him back had long passed. Once things had settled after Landis’s original attack, his big GC rivals had failed to come up with a single plan to extinguish the threat. Pereiro had only three Spanish gregarios – Vicente Garcia Acosta, Xabier Zandio and David Arroyo – to help defend the yellow jersey, and he was getting increasingly worried as the stage progressed and the gap increased.
Klöden’s T-Mobile had power in numbers – and Sinkewitz up the road – while Sastre still had CSC teammates Voigt, Schleck and Christian Vande Velde. But there was no cohesion. “Rather than a full-throated chase, each team offered up a rider at a time,” Rogers recalls. “At one point, Schleck seemed to apologize to Pereiro after receiving orders not to contribute to the chase.”
The final climb then tore the race to pieces, with Sastre and Schleck attacking together to isolate Evans, as Klöden and Menchov – both clearly on bad days – sunk back. Using the gift of hindsight, Rogers says it’s easy to unpick a few critical mistakes T-Mobile and CSC had made that day.
“They underestimated Landis, they overestimated Caisse d’Epargne, and as the stage wore on, they allowed the gap to grow while they looked to one another to chase Landis down,” he says. “They allowed their perceived threats from one another overshadow the very real threat of Landis riding away with the whole thing.”
This degeneration into a battle for second place is not exactly an uncommon sight in cycling but it usually occurs in the final kilometres of one-day races, rather than the final mountain stage of a Grand Tour. It’s also worth adding that, given Landis’s seismic slump on the final climb to La Toussuire, the American wouldn’t inconceivably suffer the same fate one day later – especially after such a huge effort during the preceding 95km of racing.
While this thought crossed Liggett’s mind, he ultimately felt that this was a different Landis the Tour was seeing on Joux Plane. “Providing he doesn’t hit the wall like he did yesterday – losing a minute per kilometre on the final climb – then they’re not going to catch him before the finish,” he said. “It’s a question of what the time gap is at the finish.”
Liggett’s erstwhile co-commentator then did his best to make sense of the American’s rapid return to form. “My team manager when I started out – Raphaël Géminiani – said that once you have a bad day like this you sometimes come back even stronger,” Sherwen said.
After Liggett agreed that “that may be the case today”, Sherwen said that Géminiani’s explanation for such a phenomenon was the old coup de fringale, the hunger-knock that follows a massive glucose exhaustion.
“Your body is basically completely empty – not just of the good things, but also the bad things – so when you start to replenish those supplies, everything comes back to the normal level of energy and the next day you go out and you’re in great form. And that seems to be what’s happened to Floyd Landis.”
In hindsight, this was all very much back-of-the-beermat sports science – highly apt considering how Landis took solace after his massive La Toussuire slump. As things fragmented behind, Landis ditched the remaining escapees on the Joux Plane before dropping like a stone on the descent into Morzine, riding into the centre of the ski resort like the second coming of Jesus.
“Well, they have seen and witnessed something this afternoon that’s going to be talked about for many years in the sport of cycling, in the history of the Tour de France,” said Sherwen. “And still, Phil, he will not give up, he will keep powering away to the line, because every second is going to count for Floyd Landis from San Diego.”
It was, according to Liggett, “a nice show of determination, a magnificent piece of revenge,” as Landis crossed the line to celebrate his first ever Tour stage win with a single right-hook punch in the air. “The clock has now started as Landis gets off his bike as if he’s about to deliver the newspaper.”
It was here where Rogers recalls Landis acting like a bar brawler on the lookout for another dust-up. Almost six minutes passed before Sastre crossed the line for second place, with the other GC contenders coming home in dribs and drabs looking “dejected and disgruntled”.
Most notably, Pereiro and Klöden crossed the line in a group just over seven minutes down, the Spaniard retaining his yellow jersey but by just 12 seconds on compatriot Sastre. Crucially, Landis was now back into third place – and his 30-second deficit would be easily recoverable in the penultimate day’s time trial. The combination of Landis’s angry win and the despondency of his rivals gave the final day in the mountains a dispiriting and bleak veneer.
“The net effect is that there weren’t really any riders at the finish line who were celebrating how the day had gone,” says Rogers. “From an emotional perspective, it was an anticlimactic and bizarre end to the Tour’s mountain stages.”
Another feeling also crept through the race – a grim sense of foreboding.
“The feeling in the press room after Landis’s big escape on Stage 17 was one of disbelief and disenchantment,” Rogers stresses. “After seven years of Armstrong – the former Classics specialist who nearly died of cancer and returned to set a new record for Tour victories – and then the Puerto affair breaking just before the Tour, I think the consensus was ‘here we go again’.”

Floyd Landis on his own on Stage 17

Image credit: Getty Images

A very different Landis greets the press

Once he had gone through all the post-stage formalities and taken a shower, Landis emerged for a second time in as many days – this time to applause – to give an informal press conference in the grounds of the Phonak team hotel in Avoriaz. The honours of presenting the man of the moment went to press officer Georges Luchinger, who couldn’t help but tee Landis up with a slightly saccharine: “The distance from heaven to hell is 200km – you know that,” before inviting the assembled journalists to pose their questions.
Standing next to manager John Lelangue, Landis was all smiles in baggy jeans and a backwards-facing cap sporting the logo The Science of Performance. Whether or not this was an early attempt at trolling is unknown.
“It was a longshot,” he said. “I didn’t know if it would work or not, but I had nothing to lose, so… Here we are again,” said Landis, matter-of-fact. “I’m not the leader yet – I don’t know if I will be – but I’m really proud of my team for keeping their heads up after yesterday.”
Calm and measured, Landis explained how he had a point to prove: that he was capable of winning the Tour. He said the only way he could recoup the six minutes he needed was to go early – otherwise he would run out of road on the final climb.
“Somehow, word got out around the peloton that we were going to do that [go to the front on the first climb] and people came up to me saying I was crazy, please don’t do it… I told ‘em, please go drink some Coke because we’re leaving on the first climb if you want to come with us.”
Landis agreed that his implosion the day before had been “a total disaster. But it’s a three-week race and you don’t win unless you keep fighting. I drank a beer just to forget about the day. This morning I woke up and I read in the Dauphiné newspaper the headline ‘Landis Out’ – and that made me mad. Because I might be down, but I’m not out.”
His phone rang, leading to one reporter to quip that it could be President Bush. “I doubt it,” Landis laughed.
On the issue of anger, which had been noted by some journalists, Landis said he’s been too tired to be angry at La Toussuire, but it had set in once he woke up that morning. He said the win felt extra good knowing that so many people had written him off. “I didn’t need to prove anything to myself,” he said. “I got a bit of a hard time earlier on in the race for not attacking and trying to win – so there you have it.”

Floyd Landis after Stage 17

Image credit: Getty Images

Landis explained that it was never his intention to put in one big attack on the Col des Saisies but instead to gradually ratchet up the tempo towards breaking point – before leaving his rivals in different pockets all over the road.
“What I wanted was one guy every 15 metres – that was the ideal situation. Then it takes them a lot longer to get organised and demoralised. If I just attacked then the whole peloton is there to work together. So rather than attacking as hard as I could, I just set a pace that I knew no one was going to want to ride. I’m not sure what was going on behind me, but it had the right effect.”
Asked whether he’d had the last laugh, Landis remained focused on the task in hand: “Not yet – but we’re working on it.”
Towards the end of what came across as a media love-in for the champion elect, one probing journalist raised what must have been on the tip of most people’s tongues. He said that the commentators had no other word to describe what they were seeing but “incredible”. Could Landis explain how his win was possible?
“It’s possible,” a bullish Landis said, “because yesterday was a disaster and not normal. Today was me. Yesterday was not me. I had only one option.” And which Floyd would we see at the time trial in two days’ time? “Hopefully today’s – although I’m not assuming anything…”

Landis completes comeback on penultimate day

There was no change after the transitional Stage 18 (won by Matteo Tosatto) ahead of the decisive 57km time trial between Le Creusot and Montceau les Mines. The profile was very similar to that of the race’s first TT in the opening week where Landis, over a course that was just 5km shorter, took second place behind the Ukrainian Serhiy Honchar while finishing a sizable 1:40 ahead of the man who was now in yellow, Pereiro.
The Spaniard only had 30 seconds to play with this time round, but he conceded 1:29 to the American, who took third place on the day behind Honchar and Klöden. This gave Landis an unassailable 59-second lead going into Paris – and although he lost two seconds on the Champs-Elysees as Thor Hushovd won on the final day (to mirror his victory in the opening day prologue), Landis was crowned the third American to win the world’s biggest bike race.

Floyd Landis time trials into yellow on Stage 19

Image credit: Getty Images

While Pereiro finished as all-important runner-up, Klöden leapfrogged Sastre onto the final podium after the CSC rider’s poor final time trial saw him finish three-and-a-half minutes down on the man with the hip joint that was effectively dead. With Landis, Pereiro and Klöden separated by 1:29 on the final podium, the result was initially the closest three-way finish in the Tour’s history to date.
Two days after the American's triumph, The Telegraph’s Andrew Baker (now deputy editor of the paper’s Weekend Magazine) wrote an article pretty typical of that Tour’s immediate aftermath, but one that in hindsight missed the mark. It was titled: ‘Landis Emerges as the True King of Pain’.
“It was the end of a dramatic, unpredictable contest, during which the eventual winner had suffered staggering setbacks and demonstrated immense resolve to overcome them,” he wrote, outlining Landis’s “determination every time he throws a leg across his bike.”
With regards to the yellow jersey’s chronic hip condition, which made Landis a “king of pain”, Baker wrote: “Every competitor during the Tour wakes up with the certainty that before the day is out he will be in agony. Landis has had to live with the waking knowledge that for him, the pain will be worse than for all the others.”
L’Equipe was not the only paper to have written off Landis as having irreparably cracked on the stage to La Toussuire. “But Landis knows more than most about cracks and how to repair them,” Baker wrote, before outlining the “breath-taking display of courage and determination” of the long-distance counter-attack the next day.
“Time, and the surgeons’ skill, will tell whether or not Landis will return to defend his title next year,” came the conclusion that did not age well.
Just four days after Landis had followed in the footsteps of compatriots Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, it was announced he had tested positive for testosterone following his solo break to Morzine, the day after his collapse to La Toussuire. Landis denied any wrong-doing and made it clear he would challenge the findings. “I’m going to do my best to defend my dignity and my innocence,” he said.

Floyd Landis in yellow after the final stage

Image credit: Getty Images

What happened next: cannabis farmer to whistle-blower

Phil Liggett’s first reaction to the news was “one of extreme sadness”. In an article entitled ‘The Question is Why, When he Knew he’d be Caught’, the commentator explained how he felt the 2006 Tour, despite its ominous beginnings in the shadow of Operación Puerto, had “seemed ‘clean’ as riders had good days and bad, something that doesn’t always happen if the drugs are kicking in”.
Liggett inferred that the secret behind Landis’s comeback was his ability to rehydrate overnight following his collapse. “Even seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong was moved to call Landis at his hotel that night and congratulate him at ‘having big balls’ to do what he had done after such a defeat 24 hours earlier,” he wrote.
With the yellow jersey awaiting the results of the B sample, Liggett concluded his piece with these words, both hopefully and stark: “There is a possibility that Landis has over-produced testosterone and, if so, I hope he will be completely vindicated. If, however, he is guilty, then he will lose the Tour de France, receive a life ban at the Olympics, a two-year ban from the sport and a four-year ban from riding on a Pro Tour team. In short, he will never race again.”
Part of the rehydration process, it emerged, was not simply those beers that Landis claimed he downed in sorrow and frustration, but the bottle of whisky he resorted to in his hour of need. This Jack Daniel’s binge, he said, had actually caused the dehydration that explained the results of the test as Landis attempted to claim that his testosterone levels (which were found to be nearly three times the limit allowed by World Anti-Doping Agency rules) were a “natural occurrence”.
“I think anyone who says they were surprised by Landis’s positive test a few days later would be lying to themselves,” Rogers says, 15 years on from that fateful day in the Alps. “The race began with one of the most wide-ranging and seemingly clear-cut doping scandals in the history of the sport. Riders who couldn’t beat Armstrong had been exposed to be working with a blood-doping doctor, and Landis had spent several formative years riding at Armstrong’s side. Armstrong might have made it to retirement without a doping scandal, but three of his former super domestiques – Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, and now Landis – had not.”
Landis was stripped of his yellow jersey and banned for two years, prompting him to appeal the test results with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On 20 September 2007 – two months after Landis published his book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France – CAS upheld Landis’s positive test and his ban. The UCI then stripped him of the Tour title and, a day later, Pereiro was declared winner – 15 months after the event.
Pereiro had finished 10th in the 2007 Tour, more than 14 minutes down on compatriot Alberto Contador, who beat Cadel Evans by 23 seconds to the yellow jersey in Paris. He failed to finish his next – and final – two Tours before retiring in 2010. That December, the 33-year-old fulfilled a childhood dream and joined his local third tier Spanish football club Coruxo FC, for whom he made two appearances, scoring a goal in each match (albeit only in the reserves).
Landis’s hip surgery was a success and once his ban ended in early 2009, he returned to cycling with the OUCH Pro Cycling Team. His first race was the Tour of California, where he finished 23rd out of a field of 84 riders. After struggling to find a team that would allow him to race on the European circuit, Landis raced in New Zealand and then joined the Bahati Foundation Cycling Team.
This all went south when Landis, the only Tour winner at that point to be disqualified since Maurice Garin in 1904, finally admitted to doping in 2010 after sending off a late-night rambling email confession to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Landis’s admission of guilt was the beginning of the end for Armstrong and the other prominent American cyclists on the US Postal team that dominated the Tour for so many years. It led to the infamous whistleblower lawsuit which was eventually settled in April 2018 when Armstrong agreed to pay the US Government $5 million. Landis received $1.1 million of the settlement for his actions in filing the original claim – although he later told the Wall Street Journal that he received only $750,000.
Landis promised to use the money to set up his own cycling team, backed by his Colorado-based cannabis company. Having given up on the idea to race professionally in NASCAR, Landis set up Floyd’s of Leadville in 2016, selling legal hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products that help to alleviate the kind of soreness in athletes that blemished so much of his own career. Floyd’s Pro Cycling ran for one year in 2019 and picked up nine victories on the continental circuit.
Armstrong, meanwhile, has never forgiven his former teammate for his role in bringing him down and seeing him stripped of his seven Tour titles – that much is evident in the recent two-part ESPN documentary, LANCE, in which Armstrong said that things “could be worse, I could be Floyd Landis. Waking up a piece of s*** every day."
Like with Armstrong, it was probably Landis’s comeback in that 2006 Tour that whipped the carpet from under his feet. Not an ill-advised, vanity-driven comeback to racing as a result of the disgust at seeing “Carlos bloody Sastre” win the 2008 Tour de France, but a supposedly whisky-fuelled, anger-driven comeback after an implosion one day earlier wearing yellow.
What Landis achieved on Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour remains a reference point even for an entirely new generation of cyclists. When four-time Tour winner Chris Froome turned his 2018 Giro d’Italia campaign around with a similar long-distance solo raid to Sestriere to take the Maglia Rosa, an incredulous George Bennett, on being told of the result in the immediate aftermath of the stage, shook his head while on the rollers, laughed, and said, “bulls***”.
After he was given a few of the headline details, Jumbo-Visma’s New Zealander added, with another wry laugh: “He did a Landis… Jesus!”
A few hours later, his Dutch WorldTour team posted a disclaimer tweet “to avoid any misinterpretation”. Of the Landis comment, they added: “This is not an insinuation, but a way to express the admiration for an exceptional achievement. Congratulations to Chris Froome and Team Sky.”
Bennett later stressed that he hadn’t intended to make any innuendo. “I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday,” he added. In any case, the Kiwi’s observation was not exactly far off the mark, given the last time the sport had witnessed such an attack as Froome’s in a Grand Tour was back in 2006 on the road to Morzine.
As Rogers tweeted that day: “Whether or not you like the implication, from a historical perspective, that’s just a fact.”
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