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Q&A: Why Floyd Landis is starting a cycling team

With the Armstrong whistleblower lawsuit behind him and cash in hand, Floyd Landis hopes to play a part in resurrecting U.S. pro cycling.

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Roughly a decade after his doping ban and his last stint as a pro racer, Floyd Landis will be the financial backer of a North American Continental team named for his Floyd’s of Leadville cannabis business. He’ll fund the team using the lion’s share of the money he won via the settlement of his whistleblower lawsuit against Lance Armstrong.

Gord Fraser, a longtime pro who has for the last few seasons worked as a sport director with the Silber Pro Cycling team that is shuttering this year, will manage the team.

VeloNews caught up with Landis on Thursday to learn about his venture back into the sport of cycling.

VeloNews: You outlined the basics of the prospective team in your interview with The Wall Street Journal. Can you give us any more details on what the squad will look like?

Floyd Landis: Gord Fraser is going to be in charge. He’s run that development team [Silber] for a long time and he’s done a good job and I’m not going to have hands-on control of the operation or anything like that. We kind of did it backwards [announcing the news this early] — because of who I am, I know that the story is initially going to be what it is now and I wanted to get that out of the way so that everybody understands where we’re coming from and then he can talk to people that might otherwise have reservations.

So yeah, we’re doing it a little backwards but I saw the climate in cycling and said, “Look, these guys need some help, and I have the means to do it.” And it’s something I do care about, despite having gone through different feelings about cycling in general.

VN: Do you have a sense yet of who will be on the team? Will there be any carryover from the Silber squad, where Fraser has spent the last few years?

FL: I think there will be some carryover from that squad but I don’t have any names to give you. He’s in preliminary contact with them and they didn’t really have much information about what the team sponsor was and what it was going to look like, and that was just by design so we could manage the PR side of it and get focused on it. I’m sure he’s happy to tell you the names, I just don’t know what he’d say and I don’t want to speak for him.

VN: How did this all come together?

FL: I wanted to do something with the money. I always felt like there was the perspective out there, and some of it was Lance’s talking points from day one, that the whole purpose of coming clean was about money. And the only thing I could do was tell people it’s not — but they have this evidence, there’s this lawsuit, and everybody thought there was going to be, you know, huge windfall and I was just going to go run off into the sunset. And number one, that’s not how I want to live my life anyway, and number two, it was not about that from the beginning.

I went through the first couple of years of that whole drama and I fought it, and then I thought maybe I can do something by coming clean. I guess they don’t know that it really accomplished anything but that lawsuit was part of it. And to me, if that money goes back into cycling, I don’t know maybe it will give some closure to Lance as well. I’m sure he has personal feelings about me and that’s always going to stay that way but at the end of the day, if this can bring some closure to that whole episode and actually benefits some young kids at the same time, then that’s some satisfaction.

VN: Do you have a longer-term plan or this a one-year thing for now?

FL: Right now it’s a one-year plan. Some capital will come from the corporation that we own, Floyd’s of Leadville, which will sponsor it as well, so the budget will be a little bit more than that, and I have some other friends that I think would be willing to put some money into it. So we’ll have a decent budget. And if our company can continue to grow and afford that level of marketing to pay for the whole budget, I think I’d like to keep it going. I don’t have any over-the-top dreams of trying to turn it into some big grand thing, but if it works out that way, at the moment it’s more just a demonstration of … I know my part in cycling and here’s all I can do to try to settle it.

VN: Considering your past, there are going to be people out there that aren’t thrilled with the notion of Floyd Landis being involved with a bike racing team again. What would you say to them?

FL: If those people are uncomfortable with me being involved, I don’t know how they can spend one minute in cycling with any level of something at all. Have they never heard of George Hincapie or Vinokourov or … give me one owner of a team that isn’t involved, or wasn’t involved. And somehow they’ve made me out to be worse? If that’s how they want to do it, then that’s how they’re going to do it, but if I’m making them uncomfortable, it must be a very uncomfortable life in cycling.

VN: What role do you plan to play in the new team?

FL: I’d like to go to races, I ride my bike from time to time — maybe not as much as I used to — but look, I trust Gord [Fraser] to do it and I’d prefer that he has complete control over the team. I’ve known him for a long time and I know, as much as you can know about anybody, I trust that he raced with integrity his whole career. He was always open with what he saw and thought about the doping side of cycling and he didn’t want to be involved with it, and that’s why he raced in the United States primarily. He had a good career and I think he relays that message to his team and that’s something he really cares about.

For me, in some way it’s about saying, that thing you just brought up with some people, I’m not going to be out there telling these kids how to train and what to do. I’d be happy to tell them how the decisions I made affected me in a negative way if that helps them make better decisions, that’s great, but I trust Gord to be more of a leader on the cycling side and the just general philosophical side of it.

VN: How did your time spent racing on the domestic scene impact your own career?

FL: Of all the years I raced my bike, those were the most satisfying and the most fun that I ever had. Racing in Europe was fun in the sense that it had a lot more at stake and that it was a lot more of everything, more pressure, more competition, whatever, but it wasn’t really enjoyable. At this point, if I look back on the time I spent racing in the U.S. with the Mercury team and racing mountain bikes before that, those were the best years of my life and I feel like, I know, there’s other kids out there that want to do the same thing and to just make that possible for them, I’d feel good about it.

VN: Do you plan to share any of the knowledge you gained from your experiences — the positive ones or the less savory ones for that matter — with the riders on the new team?

FL: I’d be happy to and I hope to spend some time around the team … I have a lot of experiences in various kinds of races and I think a lot of the young guys have their sights on that, and that’s their goal, to race in Europe. I can give them some anecdotes on things that made me, primarily, more able to deal with the other things that come with racing in Europe, which is being away from your friends and trying to adjust to new cultures. Honestly to me, that’s the hardest part of cycling.

The racing part in Europe is a little faster but it’s not rocket science. It’s more just managing the stress and managing your own personal life away from everybody that is the hard part.

VN: Now for the most important question: The Floyd’s of Leadville logo has some rainbow action going on. What do you have planned for the team kits, knowing that the UCI might not approve the rainbow jersey-esque look?

FL: Ha! We haven’t walked through that yet. I’m sure the way the stripes are on our promotional stuff isn’t going to be allowed under the UCI regulations, with the world champion stripes, and whatever, we’re not going to force that issue. We’ll figure out something with the logo and whatever other sponsors want to come on board. We haven’t quite gotten around to designing it yet.

VN: Speaking of other partners, do you have any on board yet?

FL: We kind of backed our way into this, partly because I want to talk to some other sponsors that I hadn’t reached out to yet but I wanted them to see what the press was going to say about it and what the climate was like rather than having them guess what the response might be, if you understand what I’m saying. But we can afford it on our own, if we have to buy bike parts and things like that then that’s what we’ll do, but I think other people, once they see that this is meant to be a genuine attempt to resurrect cycling in the United States, I think there’s going to be support for it. I just wanted to get the initial storyline out of the way so it wasn’t just all about me and my past.

VN: Have you been happy with the response so far?

FL: It’s been good. No one is ever going to completely take my side because of my history. I deserve to be scrutinized for that reason. But I think any press that has any understanding of cycling, and fans in general, would look at this as a good thing. Cycling really needs some support at this moment. We’re in a position, because of who I am, where it has a compound benefit, over and above what a normal sponsor would get as far as the press, and it comes with a little bit of negative return but at the end of the day I think for us it’s a positive.

VN: Any concerns of running into legal problems as a sponsor of a bike racing team advertising cannabis?

FL: We have separated the marijuana side of it from the CBD side. So we have Floyd’s Fine Cannabis, the marijuana company that owns the dispensary, and then Floyd’s of Leadville just does hemp-derived CBD. The regulations on hemp are a lot more reasonable and relaxed and there isn’t any issue with advertising hemp. Look, we’re not marketing it to kids, we’re not asking young people to start using marijuana. I believe that marijuana has a place even in a healthy lifestyle but this is more to advertise the hemp side of it and a lot of people get benefits from it and it allows them to replace Tylenol and Advil and other drugs like that. The restrictions on that for advertising aren’t going to have any effect on us.

VN: Do you have ambitions for the team to grow into something bigger, maybe racing at the Pro Continental level down the road?

FL: At the end of the day, Gord’s motivation in life is developing young riders and helping them navigate the unforeseeable things that they’re going to be facing within cycling. As long as there’s a proper budget for that and there’s a team that grows out of that into something bigger then we can sustain with that same approach, then I’d be more than happy to grow it into something bigger. But we’re taking it one day at a time at the moment.