By Andrew Hood
Floyd Landis was one of Lance Armstrong’s strongest teammates last year, but now he’s on the Texan’s enemies list as he lines up as one of the team leaders with Phonak.
Landis, 29, had an acrimonious split with Armstrong after leaving Discovery Channel last fall to take his own chances as a team leader with Phonak.
“The most critical reason for my decision to leave Postal was for my own opportunities,” Landis told reporters before the start. “If I was here for Discovery, I would be working for Lance and that would be it. So I decided it was now or never.”
Once close teammates during Landis’s three-year tenure at U.S. Postal Service, Armstrong and Landis have since had a falling out. The growing acrimony between the two former teammates has occasionally spilled over into the racing arena, most dramatically in the Tour de Georgia in April.
“I think it’s unfortunate because I spent three years of my career there, every last second of every race I was in with him, I was not working for myself ever,” Landis said. “And he still feels like I owe him something.”
Landis said he respects Armstrong, he just wishes his former boss would return the love.
“I respect him and respect what he’s done. I find it absolutely amazing the amount of stress he can handle, because he’s got twice the pressure of anybody else here. In the end, I would like him for a friend,” Landis said. “I wish he had the same respect for me, but so be it.”
The former mountain biker said he and Armstrong have tried to defuse the growing tensions in a few recent chats, but he admits things still aren’t rosy as the Tour pushes midway through its first week.
“We’ve had our conversations,” Landis said. “Some days are better than others, but in the end I think he does respect me and my decision because, in his heart, he knows that he would have done the same thing.”
Landis, meanwhile, looks be on top form for the Tour, riding a very strong opening time trial, just one of two riders who finished within one minute of Armstrong’s second-place time.
“I’m not motivated by animosity,” he continued. “It’s a bicycle race and a competition and I’m motivated by the excitement and the atmosphere, not in any way by anger.”
Despite their problems, Landis believes Armstrong will win the record seventh Tour.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 10 days and when we get into the mountains, what with bad luck and that kind of thing, but at this point I would have to say that Lance is the clear favorite,” he said. “If you were a betting man, you would bet on Lance. He’s won the last six, so I think the responsibility is on him.”
Team CSC confident for team time trial
Team CSC will start Tuesday’s team time trial in the pole position, the last of the 21 teams heading out on the 67.5km course.
Bjarne Riis’s red army will know the time splits along the flat, the undulating course from Tours to Blois, a critical advantage to defend the team’s slender two-second lead to Lance Armstrong.
Riis hopes it will help keep Dave Zabriskie in the yellow jersey.
“We’re one of the strongest teams, but it doesn’t hurt that we’re starting last,” Riis said. “We’ll have a strong base with Bobby, Jens, Luke and Dave. I think we’ll be among the best.”
Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team comes in as the favorite, winning the Tour’s past two team time trials. But Riis said having Zabriskie in the yellow jersey will give them even more motivation.
“To keep the jersey, we have to beat Discovery,” Riis said. “They’re the strongest team, along with us and Phonak. I think it will be close.”
Riis said if the team manages to retain the jersey, the team’s strategy will change. He hinted the team might spend less time hammering the front of the peloton.
“If you have the yellow jersey, I think you have to defend it,” he said. “We can do that in a different way without using all the riders on the team. We can play a little bit different tactic because we want to save something for the more important days to come.”
Depending on the time splits, others on the team might be able to make a run for the jersey, including team veterans Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt.
“If we win the team time trial, then we have a lot of other possibilities on who can take the jersey,” he said. “It’s not just Dave. We have Bobby and Jens who we can send into breakaways, we can play that card.”
Of course, all this depends on keeping the jersey.
Zabriskie enjoys yellow on red, white and blue day
Dave Zabriskie was wearing yellow on America’s national holiday, something that made the 26-year-old Utahan yearn for the barbecues back home.
“It’s nice to have the yellow jersey on the Fourth of July,” Zabriskie said. “Maybe they can save some fireworks for me when I get back to the States. Maybe I can have a barbecue and drink that drink that everyone likes to drink.”
Zabriskie didn’t reveal the identity of that universally popular beverage.
Zabriskie not only rookie
Dave Zabriskie isn’t the only rookie to earn the yellow jersey on his Tour debut. Since 1970, five other Tour newbies have had a golden entrance to cycling’s biggest stage.
Other Tour rookies to win the yellow jersey since 1970 include: Francesco Moser (1975), Eric Vanderaeden (1983), Chris Boardman (1994), David Millar (2000) and Fabian Cancellara (2004).