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Floyd Landis is in demand. For the media who are struggling to obtain access to Lance Armstrong, the San Diego-based 29 year old represents the next best thing. This morning in Challans, in the shade of the Phonak team bus, Landis was happy to talk over the Tour's opening salvoes - and his estrangement from Armstrong.
"I was happy with it," Landis said of his ride in the 19-kilometre opening stage. "Ordinarily, I am inconsistent in the opening prologue or time trial, and yesterday was a little bit longer than usual. There were a couple of big favourites, but I'm happy with my performance and the outcome of the race."
So despite Armstrong's memorable performance on the Ile de Noirmoutier, does he still believe he has a chance to win the Tour overall?
"I do," he said. "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 favourite. 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."
But whatever happens to him in this year's Tour, Landis's career will always be intertwined with his rollercoaster relationship with Armstrong, his mentor, during his three seasons with US Postal.
"The most critical reason for my decision to leave Postal was for my own opportunities," Landis said. "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."
Fair enough - except that Landis's move to Phonak went down like a lead balloon with the man who matters most at Postal/Discovery, Armstrong himself. Landis seemed more dismayed than enraged by the spat that has divided the pair since.
"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. And," Landis said, "he still feels like I owe him something.
"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 - and in the end, I would like him for a friend. I wish he had the same respect for me, but," Landis shrugged, "so be it.
"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.
"But I'm not motivated by animosity," the 29 year old said. "It's a bicycle race and a competition and I'm motivated by the excitement and the atmosphere - not in any way by anger."
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