Floyd Landis stands to inherit Armstrong's cycle of success

Floyd Landis rides during the stage 9 individual time trial at the 2002 Tour de France  Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport
He started riding a bike to get to the local fishing pond. But once he tasted competition, Floyd Landis would pedal all over the Lancaster County countryside, often in the dark on lonely roads, after he had bagged groceries at the Oregon Dairy store.

His parents, "really conservative Mennonites," he said, just shook their heads as their goofy son pedaled away from them.

Now Landis lives half the year in Southern California and the rest in Europe, where his training partner is the world's most famous bicycle rider. Lance Armstrong may be considered the most fit athlete alive, but during Armstrong's pain-defying workouts, there is another guy riding right alongside.

"Leading up to the season, we went to the mountains, up in altitude — just Lance and I trained for two months straight," Landis said recently. "That's the plan again this year."

Whenever Armstrong decides to stop winning the Tour de France, the premier cycling event held each July, his U.S. Postal Service teammate is mentioned as a candidate to move out of the peloton and take over, at least as the top American.

Last year, Landis rode in his first Tour de France, supporting Armstrong, charging up hills in the Pyrenees and the Alps, chasing breakaway groups, reducing the stress on the champion. The cycling press habitually referred to Landis as the "young American revelation."

"We think, in a handful of years, Floyd has the makings of a guy who can challenge for the lead in some of the great races," said Dan Osipow, operations manager for the U.S. Postal team.

Now 27, Landis has devoted more than a decade to his sport. For the longest time, he said, his parents, who live in Farmersville, Lancaster County, "thought I was a complete idiot."

"They thought I was just wasting my time, because I really wasn't making any money. For the amount of work I put into it, if I was doing anything else, I would have been successful a long time ago."

His mother, Arlene, said that as he rode off as a teenager, "I did inquire a couple of times what exactly he was doing. Mothers are supposed to be suspicious, right?"

Last summer, knowing exactly where he had wound up, she went to a neighbor's house to watch the television coverage of the Tour de France.

"I wouldn't be thrown out of my church for having a television," Arlene Landis said, "but I tell my children that life has so much to offer, why would they sit and watch television for hours?"

Although Floyd Landis no longer practices his parents' faith, one real connection to his roots is obvious. Not just his work, but his attitude toward it.

Landis knows his father has always gotten up before the sun, at 3:30 in the morning, six days a week, to drive a triple-axle truck for 12 hours.

"My mom raised six kids," Landis said. "That tells you about her right there. She never sat down. Pretty much all my parents do is work and go to church."

All their son does is ride a bike.

"When he's on his trainer, and he's sweating and he makes that face, like he's in pain, and it hurts, I can't watch it," said his wife, Amber. "It's hard. I couldn't do for two seconds what he does for eight hours I tell people, he rides on a bike, with a bike seat, for eight hours."

Amber Landis said she found out exactly how tough Floyd was when her husband called home one day in January.

"He'd only called me once before," she said. "It was like, 'Hey, I've got a flat tire. I don't have any more tires. Can you come get me?' "

This time, she said, "His voice was a lot heavier. Finally, he said, 'I crashed. I crashed really hard. I can't move my leg. I don't know what's wrong.' "

X-rays showed a bone in his hip was broken.

A week later, Landis described his accident, sitting in his living room, an hour north of San Diego, just after breakfast. He was still aching, but talkative and self-effacing, calling himself stupid for spinning out on some sand, but also laughing about his extended wait at the emergency room because of the injuries from the local motocross park that first had to be dealt with.

Landis got three titanium screws in his hip. Normally, he will hit the gym twice a week for leg presses and squats, then get in about 300 miles on the bike. During the season, it's 600 miles in the mountains of Europe. Even in the week after the surgery, Landis did regular workouts with his good leg, using crutches to get to the stationary bike in his garage.

"Many of the riders that I train, I have them do exercises [on a training bike] with one leg," said Arnie Baker, a coaching mentor since soon after Landis moved to San Diego in 1994. "He was able to work with one leg to get to 95 percent of his maximum heart rate. Most of us don't get to 95 percent working with two legs."

The injury will cause Landis to miss some shorter spring races, but he is still on target for the Tour de France in July. And now there are plans for more races later in the season, including the Tour of Spain and possibly the world road race championships in October in Hamilton, Ontario.

"We had to change his program quite a bit, but if everything goes right, I will be counting on him for July," said Johan Bruyneel, the team director for U.S. Postal Service.

Midway through last year's tour, Landis suffered through a tough day in which he lost the pack in the mountains. But he was back the next day supporting Armstrong up front, and left cycling enthusiasts remembering more than the no-hands wheelie he did on the Champs-Elysees the last day, after Armstrong had wrapped up his fourth Tour de France victory.

Landis finished 15th in the first individual time trial, and ultimately was 61st of 153 finishers and 189 starters, more than a respectable debut. (More typically, Armstrong didn't finish his first tour.) Another sign of his potential: The U.S. Postal Service team reportedly now pays him $250,000 a year.

"Lance has the final say as to who comes and goes," Landis said. "He's the guy who has to race with them. If he likes you or doesn't like you, that often determines whether you come or go. He's just a normal guy. When you get to know him, he's a nice guy; he really is. I'll give him credit. He's always been generous to me, taking me along to his training camps and giving me advice.

"I just figure, he's the boss because he wins the races. Whatever he asks me to do, I'll do it. It's worked out well so far. He's a good leader."

Landis knows how long the wait can be to become the guy who gets to win the races.

"There's nobody that works harder than me," he said. "But just because you work harder, it doesn't mean you're going to improve faster. Sometimes those things, you just have to wait for."

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