Three days ago, Floyd Landis had a bad day, un jour sans, as they say in France. Landis not only lost the leader's yellow jersey in Stage 16, but he also fell eight minutes behind the new leader. Most said his chance to win had passed.
On Thursday, Landis attacked the peloton like a man possessed, determined to win the race or at least make everyone else hurt trying to stop him. After several grueling mountain climbs, he had pulled himself back to within easy striking distance of the yellow jersey. Everyone was amazed by his performance. Not only had he attacked early, a tactic that had virtually disappeared among the top contenders during the Lance Armstrong years, but to do so after such an awful day was almost unprecedented. Cycling historians went back to 1958 to find a similar chain of events.
There was little doubt that Landis would overcome a 30-second deficit to take the lead in today's time trial. He did not disappoint, taking over the lead by nearly a minute despite an inspired performance from Oscar Pereiro in the yellow jersey. Tomorrow should be an easy victory parade into Paris.
After the huge Operacion Puerto doping investigation knocked several top competitors out of this year's Tour, cheating has been on everyone's mind. Following Landis' stunning comeback, a friend told me that such a performance makes him wonder whether Landis is clean. Indeed, Landis' cheeky move reminded me of another American who attacked relatively early one day in the 2003 Tour, albeit on smoother terrain: Tyler Hamilton. Not only was Hamilton banned in 2004 after evidence of transfusions was found in his blood, but now his name has resurfaced as part of Operacion Puerto. I always thought Hamilton was a hard worker who would never cheat, so his doping affair really shook my confidence. Still, I want to believe Landis is racing honestly, as does my friend.
On the Tour's first rest day, Landis shocked the media by announcing that he had avascular necrosis, a painful, degenerative hip ailment that would require hip replacement surgery after the Tour. Now I wonder if, instead of inhibiting him, his hip actually helped him to win the race. Armstrong will tell you he wouldn't have won the Tour without getting cancer first. Having cancer taught Armstrong how to tolerate more pain than before, and it also inspired him to live for the day, knowing that cancer could return. Has Landis gone through an Armstrong-like experience with his hip? Maybe suffering for several years with this problem has taught him to cope with pain better than most of his competitors, enabling him to push himself harder. Maybe knowing that he may not be able to race again after his surgery (though he is hopeful) gave him that same carpe diem urgency as well. I hope I am right, since there are no rules against competing with a bad hip.