Apparently, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, it does make a sound. It’s the same thing as in a bike race when a guy rides faster than everyone else only when he passes the finish line he gets a different type of award.
The difference is that it costs… everything.
So with that, Floyd Landis, one of the sports world’s greatest pariahs, ended his career as a professional bicycling racer. A native of the backwoods hinterlands of Lancaster County, approximately a hilly, 60 miles bike ride west of Philadelphia, Landis won the 2006 Tour de France only to be stripped of his title two days afterwards. Nearly five years after his greatest race, Landis was stripped of his title, his life savings, got a divorce, mourned the suicide of his father-in-law, lost teams, teammates and friends, and, on top of it all, had his career destroyed.
Landis’ victory lap turned into a book tour and benefit to raise cash for his legal defense of a failed doping test taken shortly after a seemingly heroic ride in Stage 17 of the Tour de France.
Yet after two years of racing sporadically for a handful of middling racing teams, Landis told ESPN’s Bonnie D. Ford that he had filed his papers with his former adversaries, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and no longer has to submit to further drug testing. In other words, Landis will be treated like a U.S. citizen for a change.
According to Ford, Landis grew increasingly frustrated with re-carving a niche in the sport in which he devoted his life. He spent 2009 riding for the U.S.-based United Healthcare team before he was released from his contract, stating that he wished to race in the longer, European stage races which suit his strengths. Landis latched on with Rock Racing only to see the team fail to gain a pro racing license, before finding a spot with the Bahati Foundation Cycling Team with the hope of racing the Tour of California.
However, when Landis decided to reveal his sordid history with doping, and revealed the alleged dopers in his sport—including Lance Armstrong—he was without a team again.
“I’ve spent five years trying to get back to a place that I can never really go back to, and it’s causing more stress than is worth it," Landis told Ford. “There must be more to life than this.”
But does that eliminate Landis from more witch hunts where he is both the hunted and the hunter? Far from it. Landis’ allegations against Armstrong, his inner circle, cycling officials and race directors of the alleged systematic, drug-aided run of Tour de France victories, were toxic enough to draw an investigation from federal prosecutors. A U.S. Justice Department-backed grand jury in Los Angeles has subpoenaed several of Landis’ and Armstrong’s teammates and fellow riders.
Just to prove he wasn’t kidding around, Landis filed a “whistle-blower” lawsuit last September and has met with federal investigators and doping officials.
In other words, Landis may not be riding his bike in races any more, but he won’t be far from the spotlight. Since the investigation into the doping allegations comes from Landis’ and Armstrong’s days of riding with the U.S. Postal Service team, a government agency whose funds are considered public, could be deemed as fraud or conspiracy against the United States. Undoubtedly, there are many folks—especially Armstrong—who are anxiously awaiting the results of the grand jury.
About the suit, a spokesman for Armstrong told The Wall Street Journal:
“By his own admission, he is a serial liar, an epic cheater, and a swindler who raised and took almost a million dollars from his loyal fans based on his lies. What remains a complete mystery is why the government would devote a penny of the taxpayer’s money to help Floyd Landis further his vile, cheating ambitions. And all aimed directly at Lance Armstrong, a man who earned every victory and passed every test while working for cancer survivors all over the world.”
No, Landis did not respond with, “Takes one to know one.”
The Armstrong camp has been quick to point out that the most-decorated racer in the history of the sport has never tested positive or been penalized for doping. They do not point out that positive tests never have been documented against baseball stars Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco. Landis says he was caught in a positive test because of an error by the lab, so take it all for what it’s worth.
“I’m relatively sure this sport cannot be fixed, but that’s not my job, that's not my fight,” Landis told Ford of the impetus behind his retirement, one he mulled for months before finally filing the paperwork.
“I don't want it to come across that I'm quitting because I'm bitter,” Landis added.
Nevertheless, the Landis saga is just about over. Sure, he’ll definitely return to the spotlight if the grand jury returns with an indictment against Armstrong or other cyclists, but otherwise, a story that began in glory and perseverance has ended amidst sadness and anger.
In a way, the end of Landis’ career could turn out to be like the end of disgraced baseball star Joe Jackson. Though Landis was never officially banned from his sport, his tiff with Armstrong and the cyclist union have effectively blacklisted him from employment on a team that could race in the European circuit. Still, Landis rode in the U.S. and every once in a while turned up for a mountain bike race, including the Leadville 100 in Colorado.
Legend has it that Joe Jackson used to turn up in small little towns far from the glory of the major leagues with a pseudonym just because he loved to play so much. Of course there was no television in those days so even the most ardent baseball fan could have been unaware what Jackson looked like. In our oversaturated media age, though, Landis doesn’t have that sort of luxury… but that doesn’t mean he can’t show up unannounced to a weekend race in any town in the country just to go for a ride.
Guys at the highest level of the sport have trouble giving it up so easily and at age 35, with a surgically repaired hip and a passion for the sport, Landis could be the ultimate vagabond racer. He’s been riding a lot, Landis told Ford.
“I've been riding my bike a lot, trying to figure out life, which is the same reason I did it to start with, so I've come full circle. I'll always ride my bike. But I'll never start on a line on a road and try to get to another line on a road faster than another guy. That's over.”
Over for now as he just rides in peace in the mountains that ring his home in Southern California…
That is until the posse from France captures and extradites him.