By Neal Rogers
Three seasons after standing atop the Tour de France podium — and subsequently sitting out of competition on suspension — Floyd Landis is back in the pro peloton.
He won’t be racing internationally. His return will be overshadowed by returning riders Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso. But contributing to the designation of 2009 as the “year of the comeback” is the return of Landis, only the third American to stand atop the Tour podium in Paris.
Instead of returning to the ProTour level, Landis, 33, is looking forward to racing alongside teammates Rory Sutherland, Tim Johnson and Karl Menzies, the core of the former Health Net-Maxxis team, at OUCH-Maxxis.
A 12-man UCI continental squad, OUCH-Maxxis is sponsored by longtime Landis supporter and physician Dr. Brent Kay and his sports medical center based in Temecula, where the team is currently holding its training camp. (Look for a report from the team’s camp on velonews.com on January 25.)
Though he maintains his innocence, Landis and his new OUCH-Maxxis team management are eager to put the matter of Landis’ suspension in the past. Landis sat down for a VeloNews interview in late-December under the watchful eye of a team PR representative keen to steer conversation away from certain topics.
“I kind of decided not too long ago that that was it, I’m moving forward,” Landis said. “I’m not going to worry about whatever happened over the last two years. It doesn’t serve any purpose for the team to focus on it, and for that matter it’s not anything the team should have to focus on. As far as I am concerned it’s finished.”
The complete interview is in the latest issue of VeloNews, along with interviews with the year’s other comeback riders, Armstrong and Basso. But here are a few highlights:
On rumors he spent the late months of 2008 in intense training specifically for the Amgen Tour of California.
“They were probably exaggerated, like most rumors are, but I feel good. I’ve gotten good training in. I’m looking forward to getting back at it again. I didn’t take it as easy over the winter as most people did. For that matter I took two years off, so there’s not much risk of overtraining at this point …. It’s an important race four our team and our sponsor, obviously Dr. Kay’s OUCH medical clinics are based in California. It’s the biggest race in the U.S. and one of best races in the world, so I can’t downplay its importance.”
On his reasons for returning to racing.
“I don’t feel in any way I am coming back to race to prove anything to anyone, or to myself for that matter. I enjoy racing for the same reason the majority of people race their bikes, whether it’s on a professional level or any other level. I think the sport deserves to have the best riders in the best races. For that reason I think this year is going to be better than it has been in a long time.”
On Lance Armstrong’s return.
“I always thought that when he was finished, he was finished. I was under the impression that once he was done racing he wasn’t going to look back. It doesn’t surprise he that he wants to race again, it surprises me that he is willing to put the effort into it. I think maybe he just missed the competition. I think after he did Leadville, he got the feeling back, that maybe he should try again. And he won’t have the opportunity forever. I certainly don’t fault him for it. Having been gone from racing, I can understand that he missed it. I wasn’t surprised that he missed it.”
To fans who are now skeptical of returning riders such as Basso, Landis and Tyler Hamilton.
“I don’t know how they would convince themselves [today’s racing] is real. But the fact is there’s going to be good bike racing. The best bike racers are going to be back racing. I’m all for athletes’ rights, and I’m all for fair and clean racing at the same time. Certainly all those fans that supported me, and whatever they thought of the outcome of the last two years, I appreciate their support. I hope they get just as much entertainment in the future as they have in the past, and we should all move on from here.”
On whether he will always consider himself the 2006 Tour de France champion
“Absolutely. I know what I did and I know how I won the race. For that matter that is all I set out to do was to win the race for myself. What anyone else thinks is really irrelevant.”