By Andrew Hood
Floyd Landis was the center of attention Sunday morning in the Vuelta a España start village as the U.S. Postal Service rider proudly showed off his leader’s jersey.
It’s the first time an American has worn the Vuelta’s leader’s jersey and the first time for Landis to wear a European race leader’s jersey since the Tour de l’Avenir in 1999. Landis won the Volta a Algarve in Portugal in February but took the lead in the final stage, not giving him much time to enjoy the spotlight.
“I didn’t sleep in the jersey, but it’s nice to have it,” Landis joked to VeloNews before Sunday’s second stage from León to Burgos.
Following U.S. Postal’s dominate win in Saturday’s time trial, Landis has a 31-second head start over second-place T-Mobile and despite promises not to work to defend the jersey, could find himself in the jersey for a few days if the rolling stages across northern Spain end in field sprints.
“Max (van Heeswijk) is sprinting well now, so maybe he can win a stage and get the jersey,” Landis said. “We have a lot of options. We’re not going to ride like we’re leading the race. That wouldn’t be wise to do right now. We came here to win stages so we got to a good start, so we’ll see what else we can do.”
Landis said he comes into the Vuelta fresh and ready to do the best he can. With no serious climbs coming until stage 9, Landis said the most important thing in the first week is to remain vigilant and not lose time.
“We’ll know as soon as get to the mountains who the contenders are for the GC, but for now we’re not going to focus on that at all – just stage wins,” Landis insisted.
Landis also confirmed he won’t be racing the road world championships in October.
Landis ready for new challenge at Phonak
For Landis, his days with Postal Service are numbered. After three seasons with the American team, Landis has signed a two-year contract to support compatriot Tyler Hamilton at the Tour de France.
“You never know if it’s the right decision, but I made the decision and I’m happy with it,” Landis told VeloNews. “I’ll be helping Tyler in the Tour and in the other races we’ll see what develops.”
In the 2004 Tour, Landis did superb work for Lance Armstrong as the Texan swept to a record sixth victory. Landis said he has nothing but positive experiences with Armstrong and team director Johan Bruyneel.
“On the contrary, Lance and Johan have been very generous to me. I only have good things to say about Lance as a person and as a cyclist,” Landis said. “It was a tough decision and I think it’s a clear (demonstration) of the quality of Lance and Johan are to let me race here and win the first day even though they know I am leaving. I have nothing bad to say about anybody here.”
Landis said he simply wanted a new challenge and Phonak provides the American with a similar program to Postal Service, with the Tour de France for determined GC riders and options for the remainder of the season.
“I have no hard feelings toward this team – everything I’ve got to this point, I owe to them,” he continued. “It’s just time for something new.” Bruyneel satisfied with time trial win
Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel said he was more than pleased with the team’s time trial victory Saturday. “I knew this was our first opportunity here and it went a lot better than I could have dreamed of,” Bruyneel said in a team press release. “I knew there would be some (time) differences but not big differences. Then you see the results and it’s pretty impressive what our team did. Everything went really smooth.”
Postal Service held the best time at both intermediate check points – 8 seconds over Illes Balears-Banesto at the 11 km mark followed by a 20 second advantage over T-Mobile at the 20 km mark.
“We insisted on starting fast because in the past two team time trials here we lost all of our time in the beginning and still finished pretty strong,” Bruyneel continued. “So this time we started fast and we were ahead early and rode really well throughout. It was a good start but it doesn’t change our strategy. I still maintain we are here to win some stages and at least until the mountains, we will keep that strategy.”
Farrar second at Avenir
American Tyler Farrar jumped up to second overall in the Tour de l’Avenir after race leader Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) crashed out during Saturday’s third stage.
Spanish rider Gustavo César Veloso (Relax-Bodysol) slipped into the overall lead in the 206.5km stage from Mers-les-Bains to Fontaine-au-Pire in northern France. Dekker crashed with about 26km when he went down on the finishing circuit in Fontaine-au-Pire. Steven Caethoven (Vlaanderen) won the stage while pre-race favorite Sebastian Chavanel (Boulangère) came through fourth. Veloso now sits four seconds ahead of Farrar, who enjoyed a fine performance in the opening time trial Thursday.