PARIS -- The craziest Tour de France in memory ended Sunday
the same way the last seven had: with an American wearing the
yellow jersey, this time with a Landis instead of a Lance.
After stunning feats of willpower and woeful cracks of
concentration, Floyd Landis' arthritic hip held up and he held on
for the ceremonial ride over the cobblestones of the
"I kept fighting, never stopped believing," Landis said after
leaving the winner's podium with his daughter, Ryan.
But plenty of race fans surely had their doubts, especially
after his wild ride in the Alps last week.
Landis had tried to apply Armstrong's meticulous strategy for
winning, but that went awry when he flat out cracked in the final
climb of Stage 16 on Wednesday, giving up a lead and falling 8
minutes, 8 seconds behind Spain's Oscar Pereiro.
All but written off, he managed a stunning rebound the very next
day in the last mountain stage, pedaling like a madman and closing
the gap to 30 seconds.
So astounding was the turnaround that race director Jean-Marie
Leblanc, who has overseen this event 18 years, called it "the best
performance in the modern history of the Tour."
The comeback was read by many as a master stroke, instantly
enshrining Landis in cycling's pantheon alongside greats like
five-time Tour champion Eddy Merckx of Belgium for his show of both
human frailty and superhuman courage in the span of 24 hours.
The 30 seconds put Landis, who hails from eastern Pennsylvania's
Dutch country, in position to win by outpacing Pereiro in the final
time trial Saturday.
And by the time he was done, the race was reborn -- injected with
the drama and swashbuckling flavor of years past, something that
was lacking for nearly all of Armstrong's seven victories.
Not that the two men won't be inextricably linked.
A former mountain biker, Landis toiled for three years as a U.S.
Postal Service team support rider for Armstrong -- then broke out on
his own to lead the Swiss Phonak squad.
Now, Armstrong wants him back with the Discovery Channel team,
of which he is part owner.
"We've always been interested in Floyd -- he's a damn good
rider," Armstrong said. "We would take Floyd back. We have
pursued him for some time now."
Landis' loyalties may be elsewhere: He dedicated the victory to
Andy Rihs, the owner of the Swiss Phonak team.
As things stand now, he hopes to ride again. It all depends on
how he fares after hip replacement surgery this fall to ease pain
in the arthritic joint still aching from a 2003 crash during a
"I'm proud and happy for Floyd," said Armstrong, who watched
the finish on TV from a hotel room near the Champs-Elysées. "He
proved he was the strongest. Everybody wrote him off."
President Bush telephoned Landis with his congratulations.
"You embody great courage. Everybody's proud of you. You showed
amazing strength and character," said Bush, who also invited the
winner and his family to the White House.
Landis becomes the third American to win the world's most
prestigious bike race, behind Armstrong and three-time winner Greg
The first Tour without Armstrong got off to a shaky start.
Not only was it missing the Texan's characteristic dominance, it
was missing some of the pre-race favorites, who were sent home over
doping allegations even before the start. Those riders included Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso.
Landis' 57-second margin over Pereiro, who was second, was the
sixth-smallest in Tour history, and the tightest since LeMond's
record-low 8 seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Germany's Andreas Kloeden was third, 1:29 behind Landis.
Norway's Thor Hushovd won the final stage of the three-week
race, a 96-mile route from Sceaux-Antony to Paris. He had also won
the Tour prologue on July 1.
For the finish Sunday, Russia's Viatceslav Ekimov, 40, led the
peloton -- or rider pack -- as it arrived for the first of eight laps
on the famed Paris avenue to honor him as the Tour's oldest rider.
It was his 15th Tour -- one shy of Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk's
Australia's Robbie McEwen won the green jersey given to the best
sprinter for a third time, and Denmark's Mickael Rasmussen earned
the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber for a second year.
Italy's Damiano Cunego, 25, won the white jersey as the best young
Landis learned discipline at an early age.
His devout Mennonite parents, Paul and Arlene, shunned organized
sports and were all about hard work. That, in turn, was passed onto
their six children. Landis didn't have much idle time, helping his
dad at the car wash, fixing washing machines and mowing the lawn.
Though the family had a car and electricity in the house, they
adhered to a simple life with no television or radio.
As he grew up, Landis wanted something more -- and biking
provided the escape.
"Riding my bike wasn't the problem, it was just that I got
obsessed with it," Landis recalled during an interview with The
Associated Press last week. "I don't blame them for thinking that
it was absurd that you want to ride your bike that much."
Landis now lives in Murrieta, Calif., with his wife, Amber, and
Though he learned key lessons from Armstrong -- for example, how
to build a team around a single rider -- he insists his drive was
different from Armstrong, a cancer survivor. Fewer U.S. flags lined
the famed Paris avenue for the finish this time, perhaps an
indication that Americans didn't think there was much of a chance
for victory without Armstrong.
Landis showed them.
"Lance made it clear that he was motivated by showing people he
could do something when they thought he couldn't," he said. "To
me, I don't think so much about whether people think I can or I
"It's just that I was a competitive personality to begin with.
I'm not trying to prove anything to the world."