Cycling offers plenty of drama in post-Armstrong era
Posted: Tuesday April 25, 2006 1:27PM; Updated: Tuesday April 25, 2006 1:27PM
Floyd Landis dominated the Tour de Georgia -- not even a late flat tire could stop him.
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Ivan Basso, were you watching?
Did you see Floyd Landis of Phonak hold off the Discovery Channel's Tom Danielson to win the Tour of Georgia last Sunday? Did you see their epic, race-deciding duel up 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald mountain the day before?
Danielson trailed by four seconds; this savage climb would be his last real chance to take the lead in this race, which he won a year ago by putting almost a minute into Landis on the mountain known by those who have ridden up it as Brasstown Bald Breaker.
Over and over, Danielson attacked; again and again, Landis answered, spot-welding himself to the Discovery rider's side. Danielson won the battle -- edging Landis at the line to take the stage win -- but Landis won the war. Both riders were awarded the same time.
Despite a flat tire in the final minutes of the following day's stage -- Landis borrowed a tire from teammate Ignacio Gutierrez and quickly bridged back to the peloton -- he made those four seconds stand up throughout the Stage 6 run-in to Alpharetta, thus clinching his third victory of this young season. It's still April, and Landis has already won the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice and now the Ford Tour de Georgia.
Of course, Basso didn't see it. I didn't see it either. The race wasn't on TV, which is what happens when Lance Armstrong leaves the sport. While I was in Georgia for Stages 3 and 4 -- working on an upcoming feature on Landis -- I bailed Friday night, the better to keep my marriage on firm footing. Thus did I find myself glued to a computer terminal on Saturday, waiting breathlessly for updates from Velonews.com:
3:33 p.m.: Danielson and Landis are out of the saddle.... Danielson attacks!
3:35: Landis is setting the pace.... Now they are side-by-side.
3:37: Now they are talking to each other. What's that all about?
3:38: Danielson attacks again and Floyd goes with him. This is a different Floyd Landis than in 2005.
Velonews got that right. A year ago, Landis led Danielson by a minute going into Saturday but lost that time -- and the race -- on the pitches of Brasstown Bald. It was one of the indelible images from what is the single most thrilling day in American stage racing: Landis grinding up the appalling gradient, Armstrong grimly satisfied to sit on the wheel of his former teammate.
As those who follow the sport know, the defection of Landis to Phonak after the previous season sat poorly with Armstrong, who judged Landis ungrateful. On that frigid afternoon on the summit of Brasstown Bald, Armstrong pointed triumphantly at the clock beyond the finish line, which showed that Landis had lost his lead.
Landis was too gracious -- and too spent -- to consider a similar gesture last Saturday. "All I had to do was stay with Tom," he noted at the press conference after the stage. "I didn't want to ride in front of him too much. He sprinted at the end, got the stage, but I did what I had to do."
He had to hang on for dear life. Where Landis is better at hammering at a strong pace over a sustained interval, the wraith-like Danielson is better suited for a crazy-steep climb like Brasstown. And even though Phonak sent a stronger team this year to support Landis, who was isolated in last year's mountain stages, the 30-year-old native Pennsylvanian still found himself badly outnumbered halfway up Brasstown Bald.
"At one point there were three of us and one of him, and we kept the pace going," recalled Danielson. "Floyd was very, very strong."