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
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
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
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.