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Landis scandal spoils fantastic script

July 28, 2006 14:13 IST

The news that Floyd Landis tested positive for testosterone on his way to victory in this year's Tour de France has spoiled one of the greatest success stories in the history of the showpiece event.

A week ago, the quiet 30-year-old son of a Mennonite family from Lancaster county in Pennsylvania produced a fantastic run in the French Alps to win the last mountain stage from St Jean de Maurienne to Morzine.

It was after that gruelling ride that Landis failed a test for the male sex hormone.

"Landis's performance not only left its mark on the 2006 Tour, it also left its mark on the whole history of the race," new race director Christian Prudhomme had said of the American's triumph.

Many felt the discreet but approachable Landis was great for a sport tired of the robotic domination of fellow American Lance Armstrong, who was perceived by many in the cycling world as somewhat arrogant.

The slow rise of a man who spent years in the shadow of Armstrong started when he bought his first mountain bike, aged 15. So devout were his parents that he could not ride it with shorts and had to wear a tracksuit.

To pursue his passion, Landis, who soon switched to road racing, eventually left the Mennonite fold. Aged 20, he moved to California and dedicated all his time to cycling, now able to train in shorts.

Landis, however, never complained about the way he was brought up in a culture suspicious about the modern world and its comforts.

"I have nothing bad to say about my education," he said during the Tour. "My parents taught me the values of work, courage and patience."

VALUED AIDE

In 2002 he joined the US Postal team, whose leader, Armstrong, spotted the newcomer's potential, helping him out financially and making him one of his most valued aides.

Landis, however, found working for the exacting Texan increasingly frustrating and their relationship deteriorated.

In 2005, he moved to Phonak, soon proving he had all the qualities to become their leader.

Not until Ivan Basso of Italy and German Jan Ullrich were among nine riders forced to pull out on the eve of the race after being implicated in a doping investigation in Spain did Landis emerge as a Tour favourite.

Some felt he would struggle when he said during the race that he had a hip problem and would need surgery to cure residual pain from a crash in 2003.

Landis nevertheless rose to the occasion and after his awesome climb to Morzine, fan Vicki Barringer, whose family owns a bicycle shop that he frequents in his hometown of Murreita, California told Reuters: "That was one of the most glorious moments in sports.

"If anybody ever had a doubt about themselves, all they had to do was look at him and know the impossible can be done."

She was still backing him after Thursday's news.

"I believe in Floyd's capabilities and I'll wait for the final outcome," she said.
Patrick Vignal in Paris
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