Floyd Landis' mom proud of her son and his Tour work ethic

They sound like tall tales, but they are true:

  • Floyd Landis rides his bicycle as much as a dozen hours a day regardless of the season or whether he's competing in a race.

  • As a teen-ager, the 1994 Conestoga Valley High School graduate would ride the country roads of eastern Lancaster County in the evening darkness and into the early-morning hours.

  • Wearing earplugs, he goes to bed at 9 each night.

  • He had to get permission from his Mennonite pastor to wear Spandex in his first mountain-bike races.

  • His family never had a television, and his mother never has seen a television program.

    The last part is stretching it just a bit.

    Arlene Landis laughs.

    "When I was a child," Landis' mother says, "we had an uncle who had a TV, and we liked to watch cartoons."

    The mother and grandmother from the quiet crossroads of Farmersville isn't bothered when she learns that French television commentators sometimes refer to her.

    "That's OK. I'm pretty far removed from that," she says.

    Truer words probably could not be spoken.

    Mrs. Landis utters them while sitting in a friend's home, where she had come to watch cable-television images of her Spandex-clad son speeding through the French countryside.

    No less true are words her son wrote on his Web site last week:

    "Not many people who come out of Farmersville, Pa., get to the Tour de France."

    He is undoubtedly the first to hail from the hamlet just east of Brownstown, in West Earl Township.

    And with his surprisingly strong first-time showing in bicycling's premier event, the world is starting to take notice.

    Landis, 26, has been lauded in the cycling press as "a champion in the making." His ability has been praised by his team captain, Lance Armstrong, the most famous man in the sport. Landis has been called a possible successor to the three-time Tour de France winner.

    Even people in Lancaster County are starting to take notice. There is a "Go Floyd" sign at an Ephrata real estate office near the bike shop where a teen-age Landis used to hang out.

    And people have begun to ask his mom if she has a son who races bicycles.

    "I think the neighbors are keeping track of it," she says. "I think because it has been in the paper it has gotten more attention."

    The interest represents a change. Unlike baseball or football, bicycle racing is largely ignored in the United States. It rarely makes headlines here.

    In Europe, where screaming spectators line the race routes to get a glimpse of their favorite riders as they go past, bicycle racing is hugely popular. There, teams of brightly uniformed riders with big-name sponsors compete in multi-day races over hundreds of miles.

    And the Tour de France is the longest, most grueling and most prestigious of them all.

    Riders will cover 2,036 miles during 21 days of racing. The course includes mountain roads in the Pyrenees and Alps and long, flat coastal stretches where the riders propel themselves at speeds that average more than 28 mph. The race finishes in Paris on July 28.

    "Some people compare it to the Olympics, but Floyd, he's given me the impression that this is far superior to the Olympics," Mrs. Landis says.

    His performance as a rookie especially with Armstrong expected to win again has caught the eye of the cycling media.

    French television has been intrigued by Landis' Lancaster County upbringing, which did not include television or movies.

    A San Diego newspaper article mentions that he pops wheelies with his bicycle in practice and listens to '70s rock 'n' roll that he did not hear as a child.

    The radio in his parents' home remains tuned to WDAC's Christian programming.

    Some people in Farmersville are also puzzled by Landis, his mom acknowledges. More conservative Mennonites women in coverings and dresses and men in black hats and narrow suspenders ride bicycles on the road outside as she speaks.

    Landis purchased his first bicycle so that he would have transportation to local fishing holes.

    His mom, who declined to be photographed for this story, freely admits that bicycle racer is not the occupation she would have chosen for her oldest son.

    "I never imagined that there was that much money to ride a bike," she says. "I still don't know where it comes from."

    She also admits that the career choice wasn't her decision. Her son simply decided to pursue his dream.

    In an interview with an Australian Internet-based cycling news service, Landis said he decided to become a professional bicycle racer after winning his first mountain-bike race in Brickerville in 1991.

    After that, he began to train obsessively. The teen-age Landis would end his shift bagging groceries at Oregon Dairy at 9 p.m. Then he would wrap plastic shopping bags around his shoes to fend off the cold and would ride until the early morning hours.

    His mom recalls the family going to Akron Park to ride sleds down the snow-covered slope. Landis took his bike.

    "We'd be sledding and he'd be riding his bike up that hill. We'd be having fun and he'd be working out," she remembers.

    Her son was always a very determined child, she says.

    "He was always very goal-oriented. Even from the time he was a young child. If you imagined a mother looking at books on a strong-willed child, that would have been me."

    Before entering his senior year at Conestoga Valley High School, Landis went to Traverse City, Mich., where he won the National Off-Road Bicycle Association National Final in the expert junior class.

    Soon after graduating in 1994, he moved to Southern California. There he could climb higher hills, train in better weather throughout the year and be close to the nation's biggest mountain-bike competitions. He has remained near San Diego with his wife, Amber, and their 5-year-old daughter.

    It was during his mountain-biking years that Landis gained his reputation for long, intense training rides. He carried that reputation with him in 1999 when he switched to road racing.

    "I just figured I was going to work harder than anybody else," he said in the interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    That article attributes Landis' work ethic to his upbringing.

    His mom laughs.

    "I'd like to say so, but I don't know if that is proper," she says.

    Landis is the second-oldest of six children. His father, Paul, drives a dump truck for a local quarry. His mom is a homemaker.

    His brother Robert, 22, tried a few mountain-bike races but went no further with it. His sister Priscilla, 16, rides a pink Huffy bike, but she says she tires after three miles.

    Mrs. Landis says idle hands were frowned upon in her home. She and her family do not have a television. But she clarifies: They have a VCR that her son won in a competition. It can be hooked to a monitor to watch tapes if they choose to do that.

    For her, watching her son in France is an aberration. Before this race, she had never gone to a friend's home to watch television. And she quickly notes that the commercials interrupting the broadcast are a waste of time.

    Watching the bicycle racers on the other side of the globe, she tries to reconcile Landis' upbringing with his career and his possible future.

    "Coming from a Mennonite family, we think work ethic is an important thing in his life," she says. "I think being hired to basically be a worker for Lance, that is a servant spirit ... A servant is exalted in time."

    During the Tour, she saw her son serving in that role. He has dropped back to help Armstrong, primarily by drafting for him cutting down the wind resistance the champion has to face.

    "He knows that someday he may have a chance," she says.

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