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The Amazing Race
AUSTIN MURPHY
July 31, 2006
Written off after a meltdown in the mountains, Floyd Landis executed a bold and spectacular turnaround a day later and then cruised to victory
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July 31, 2006

The Amazing Race

Written off after a meltdown in the mountains, Floyd Landis executed a bold and spectacular turnaround a day later and then cruised to victory

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"You know," he said, flashing a smile, "we may be able to get some of that time back today. I'm feeling like myself again."

Moments earlier he had laid out to his teammates the specifics of the day's plan--the Hail Mary, as it were. They would drop the hammer on the peloton 50 kilometers into that day's 200.5-km stage, at the base of the Col des Saisies, the first of the stage's five categorized climbs. The Phonaks would go as hard as they could for as long as they could, then launch Landis, who thereafter would be on his own.

Even Landis would later describe the strategy as "ridiculous" and "absurd." Simple aerodynamics dictates that it takes a lone cyclist up to 30% more effort to ride as fast as the peloton. Early solo breakaways fail more frequently than Vegas weddings.

As they straddled their bikes at the start, Landis confided in his friends George Hincapie ( Discovery Channel team) and Dave Zabriskie (CSC), both fellow Americans, that he would attack on the first climb.

"Yeah, he told me," said Hincapie, who did not try to dissuade his friend. "You can't tell him not to. You can't tell him anything."

As a very tired peloton wended its way through Arc Valley, approaching the first climb, word got out that Phonak intended to attack. There was general groaning. "A bunch of the French guys in the back were yelling at [ Phonak]" for making extra work for everyone, said Zabriskie. "But it wasn't like Floyd was doing it to get on TV, like they do."

When the men in lime began their acceleration, there was already a breakaway group 11 minutes ahead. By the time Landis bid his knackered teammates adieu, halfway up the mountain, they had whittled the gap to six minutes. Landis then reached the lead pack with startling ease.

"He was taking great, huge chunks of time out of us," marveled Stuart O'Grady, the Australian sprinter for CSC, who was riding in the breakaway. "It was incredible. I've done 10 Tours de France, and I've never seen anything like it."

Upon overtaking the escapees, Landis rode directly to the front, where he set a pitiless pace that immediately shed several riders. "He was going 58K per hour [36 mph] on the flat," recalled O'Grady. "We hit the climb and he maintained 26, 27K per hour. One climb and I was shot. And I was on a good day."

Landis let it be known among the group that he was willing to gift the stage to anyone who would take some pulls for him, helping him gain back the time he'd hemorrhaged the day before. No takers. O'Grady works for Carlos Sastre, who'd been the prime beneficiary of Landis's meltdown. Juan Manuel Garate of Quick Step demurred; he didn't want to be seen as working against Pereiro, a fellow Spaniard. Everyone, it seemed, had an excuse. So Landis went ahead by himself.

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