Despite losing the yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro over the weekend, Floyd Landis is still confident
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Having won the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees and then willingly relinquished it on the ‘transition’ stages across to the Alps over the weekend, Phonak team leader Floyd Landis goes into today’s rest day at Gap confident about his chances in the Tour’s final week. Speaking to L’Equipe, the 30-year-old American steadfastly refused to declare that he thinks he will be wearing yellow in Paris next Sunday, admitting: “I still don’t know if I’m capable of winning.”
However, he refused to admit that Saturday’s ‘handover’ of the yellow jersey to Caisse d’Epargne’s Oscar Pereiro was a mistake. “For me the goal is to be in yellow on the Champs Elyses on July 23, and my team is not strong enough to be able to bear the weight of the race alone until that point,” said Landis. “I had to preserve my team-mates and to do that we took the risk of letting the yellow jersey go. In truth I would have preferred not to have won it [so early] and left it to Cyril Dessel.”
Landis played down the effects of his much-publicised degenerative hip problem, which is expected to force him into a hip replacement operation later this year. “I feel some pain after three or four hours of riding and also at night. But it’s not overwhelming pain,” he said. “It’s a slow process that won’t prevent me defending my chances at the Tour.”
He did admit there is a possibility he won’t be able to return after the operation. “I’ve been given examples of people who have returned to cycling after having their hip joint replaced, but they weren’t riding the Tour de France! I think that I can come back and that I will be better for it because I won’t have any pain any longer,” the Phonak team leader stated.
Landis said he had opted to move to Phonak in 2005 after three years of sterling service for Lance Armstrong and US Postal at the Tour because his friend Tyler Hamilton was there and also because they had given him a year to adapt to a new role as team leader. “Things didn’t turn out as I hoped. There was that story with Tyler [who was banned for blood doping]. It wasn’t planned for me to become the team’s leader right from the first season.”
Landis said he was “horrified” by the news about Hamilton, but, despite offers from Discovery Channel and CSC, decided to stay where he was because “when things are chaotic the best thing to do is to stick with your original plan”.
It did, he admitted, take him time to adapt to his role as Phonak team leader. “It took more time than I expected. There were internal problems in the team, and I had my own issues to deal with, starting with my hip. Last year’s Tour performance gave me confidence in myself and my team-mates. I had to prove I was capable of being their leader,” he explained.
More recently, there was the further setback of seeing Santiago Botero and Jos Enrique Gutierrez, two of his key lieutenants for the Tour’s mountain stages, suspended by Phonak after they were implicated in the Operacion Puerto blood doping affair. “From the riding perspective, it would be better if they were here,” Landis confessed. “On the other hand, for the good of the team and of cycling I think that leaving them out was a good decision.”