Move Over Lance, Here Comes Floyd Landis

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The New York Sun

CANNES, France — It was not easy for the French to see the leader’s yellow jersey pass from one of their own to an American on the eve of Bastille Day, especially after their nation’s bitter loss in the World Cup final four days before. At least in this case, Floyd Landis, the strongest American presence on the Tour de France this year, was diplomatic after he ruined their party.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Landis offered to his interviewer on French television, who reminded him of France’s national holiday on Friday.” But I wanted [the yellow jersey] as much as anyone else.”

Landis is turning in a command performance despite the pain in his right hip, stemming from a degenerative bone condition. He announced this week that he intends to get the hip replaced after the three-week race. He also told French television that this would likely be his last Tour, as he is scheduled for artificial transplant surgery after the race.

“But we’ll see,” he said. “I’ll try.”

He also said his damaged hip could hinder his chances of defending the lead all the way to Paris.

“It’s a possibility, but ordinarily with this condition it’s a slow process and it isn’t a catastrophic failure in one day, so it’s unlikely at this point that it will be so much of a problem that it will affect the race,” he said.

Landis’s degenerating condition has crumbled the ball of his hip joint so that it no longer fits neatly into the socket, his doctor has said. The irregular-shaped bone has ground down surrounding cartilage, and arthritis has set in. It’s the same kind of injury that shortened the career of former baseball and football star Bo Jackson.

The 30-year-old Landis broke his right hip and severed its blood supply in a fall on gravel during a steep downhill training ride near his California home three years ago.

“The front wheel slid out, so all of my weight went straight down onto my right hip,” Landis said at a news conference in Bordeaux earlier this week on an off-day in the Tour. “I guess I knew at the time that something was really wrong because it was probably the most painful thing that I have ever experienced, but I didn’t want to believe that it was as bad as it was.”

Three subsequent surgeries failed to fix the problem, and without blood to nourish the joint, his hip bone slowly has been deteriorating. Doctors refer to it as avascular necrosis.

It’s a common reason for young people to need hip replacements, and injury is often the cause. Other causes, according to reports by the Associated Press, include long-term use of medical steroid drugs including prednisone for conditions such as asthma or lupus, blood-clotting disorders, and heavy alcohol use, said Dr. Andrew Urquhart, chief of joint reconstruction at the University of Michigan.

“Some people with this condition are unable to put on their own shoes and socks just because twisting their leg is so painful,” he told the Associated Press.

But pain tolerance separates elite athletes from the rest of us, said Dr. David Prince, a sports injury specialist at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center.

“If you or I were to undergo what he’s experiencing, we would go nuts and probably have the surgery that night,” Prince said. “For the average person, on a pain scale of 1 to 10, this would probably be a 50.”

French cycling fans were in their own kind of pain yesterday as the day’s overall leader, Cyril Desser, made his way up to the finish of Stage 11. Desser needed to cross less than 4:35 after the breakaway leaders. He sped through the curves, pedaled hard to the end, but he was eight seconds too late.

“I gave all I could,” Desser remarked at the finish, obviously dismayed at letting down his countrymen. “I really could have done nothing more.”

Yesterday marked the first real strategic maneuver of this Tour, an attack that came on the day’s penultimate climb, and it culminated in what the cycling world has been waiting for since last July: a solid indication of which riders would lead this year’s Tour. In the end, anyone with a good chance of standing on the podium in Paris was present in the day’s attack.

It started when T-Mobile riders moved to the front of the group containing the yellow jersey in what looked like a routine lead-change. It soon became evident, though, that this was something more serious. Matthias Kessler and Michael Rogers cranked up the pace and the group exploded into fractions.

Dessel (AG2R Prevoyance) started to lag behind, showing the wear and tear of his extraordinary, lead-snatching performance on Wednesday. So did New York-born George Hincapie (Discovery), who until today was considered a top contender. He slid even further behind the attackers, and then behind the yellow jersey, and the former right-hand man of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong saw his chances for a victory of his own slide downhill.

“Bad legs today,” a glum Hincapie said. “I worked really had for this, but there’s really not much I can do. It’s just not coming together for me. I’m very disappointed. Obviously, the general [classification] is over for me.”

The fading hopes of his Discovery Channel hinge now on Hincapie’s cocaptain, Yaroslav Popovych, who is an unpromising nine minutes behind in the standings, or else Jose Azevedo, who turned in a fair performance yesterday and now sits 7:27 behind the leaders.

Another casualty of the day’s attack was a usually excellent climber, Iban Mayo (Euskaltel). He has pulled out of the race.

On the final climb, with only a handful of kilometers to go, three riders tore off and vied for the stage victory: Landis (Phonak), Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), and a charging Russian, Denis Menchov (Rabobank).The three climbed wheel-to-wheel and traded leads until final turns in Plan-de-Beret. Menchov charged past Leipheimer to take the stage.

Even with the Alps looming in the distance, it is fairly safe to say that the eventual champion, to be crowned in Paris on July 23, is hidden among the top 10 finishers of the day. Aside from Landis, Leipheimer, and Menchov, they include: Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile), Carlos Sastre (CSC), and the two French teammates at the top of the classification, Christophe Moreau and Dessel (A2R).

Asked to give his forecast for who might be the winner, Menchov started with Landis’s name. “Floyd Landis is without doubt the favorite,” he said through a translator. “He is riding very strong right now.”

The New York Sun

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