Unattached Landis 34 seconds off lead

WINDHAM, N.Y. -- Floyd Landis joked around at the start with other riders at the Tour of the Catskills, then showed he still has a kick.

Landis completed the first stage of the three-day event in the lead pack of 35 riders, finishing in 3 hours, 19.23 seconds on a sun-splashed Saturday. That left him tied for sixth, 34 seconds behind leader Aurelien Passeron of France.

Landis began the 80-mile ride 24 seconds behind Passeron, who won Friday's prologue and retained the yellow jersey to gain another 10 seconds. Passeron led Cameron Cogburn of Cambridge, Mass., by 26 seconds.

Sunday's final stage, dubbed the Mountaintop Classic, is another 80-mile segment that includes a climb up Platte Clove in what is known as the "Devil's Kitchen" leg. It begins and ends in Hunter.

Riding unattached but wearing the jersey of the Farm Team, a developmental team in northeastern New York, Landis stopped briefly to chat with teammates after finishing and then rode away without taking questions from reporters.

Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for testing positive for high levels of testosterone. He denied that he'd doped until this spring, when he admitted to using drugs to gain a competitive edge. He also has made doping claims against seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.

Landis' allegations have sparked a federal investigation into cheating in pro cycling, and prosecutors have subpoenaed documents from a 2004 case in which a company tried to prove Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong has denied using such drugs and has never tested positive.

Despite Landis' admissions, few cyclists are ready to ostracize him.

Before Saturday's stage got under way, 19-year-old Nick Waller of Gloversville, N.Y., who rides with Adirondack Velo Club, walked up to Landis, bumped fists with him, and then walked away beaming.

"I'm so happy. I can't believe I just shook his hand," Waller told his father, David. "Probably 90 to 95 percent of the pros, I do believe they dope.

"Even though he doped, he still had to get on the bike every single day. He had to train hard. He had to ride his guts out, puke probably at night, and I respect that. I know the pain I go through on my bike is hell. There are times I want to pull over and cry."

David Waller gave Landis credit for breaking cycling's code of silence.

"When he admitted it and came back clean, that took some guts," David Waller said. "He's leveling the playing field."

Sitting astride his bike nearby and waiting to start, David Townend of Windsor, Mass., took it all in.

"I understand his situation. He's basically losing his livelihood and he's lost a lot of other things in the process," said the 57-year-old Townend, who's been competing for more than two decades. "It's a shame. I wish the best for him. I don't know that I agree with his approach, but I'm not in his shoes. The whole thing is something that we need to put behind us in the sport."