It’s probably not a coincidence that the news about Floyd Landis’ possible return to cycling in 2009 came the same time as the sport was focused on the return of an even more well-known rider. The reports that Landis is negotiating a deal to ride with Health Net-Maxxis in ’09 kind of slips under the radar a bit when everyone starts talking about Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong, of course, announced that he was coming out retirement earlier this week with the goal to win his eighth Tour de France. However, most of the speculation wasn’t that Armstrong was returning to enhance his legacy or because the competitive juices still flowed. Instead, many speculated, Armstrong had grown tired hearing the doubts that he doped to win his seven yellow jerseys.
The doubts linger despite the fact that Armstrong never tested positive in any of the hundreds of drug tests he took. Of course that’s not the greatest defense considering Barry Bonds or Marion Jones never tested positive either even though the evidence appears to prove the contrary. Conversely, Landis did, indeed, test positive after the famous 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France, though the results leave plenty of doubt.
The doping issue isn’t going to go away no matter what. Not for Floyd, not for Lance, not for anyone. Actually, it doesn’t even matter that Armstrong says he is going to undergo the most rigorous drug-testing protocol ever devised and post the results on the web for all to deconstruct as they wish – the court of public opinion never allows an appeal.
Regardless, one might believe that it will be an interesting season in the peloton with Lance and Landis heading back in the saddle. However, don’t expect to see Landis racing in France – or even in the European races – next year. Health Net-Maxxis, owned by the Momentum Sports Group and set to change its title sponsor, is strictly a domestic team. That means it is likely Landis will race in events like the Tour of Georgia, as well as the three-race Commerce Bank series held in Allentown, Reading and Philadelphia.
Yes, there’s a very good chance we will see Landis take on The Manayunk Wall next summer.
But after riding for elite teams like Armstrong’s U.S. Postal squad and as the team leader for Phonak, a drop to a domestic team (even a top flight one like Health Net-Maxxis) might seem like some as a personification of Landis’ fall from grace. The speculation is the reasons for Landis likely joining Health Net-Maxxis isn’t as simple as rust, age and punishment from serving a two-year suspension. If Landis were to join an elite Europe-based team, it’s very likely that the Tour de France would not extend an invitation to that team just for spite. That’s just how they operate.
Besides, a year of good will on the U.S. circuit can go a long way. Landis can work himself back into elite-level racing shape without the rigors of international travel and scrutiny.
Plus, Landis can allow his old teammate Armstrong to blaze a trail for him. If all goes well in the comeback, old doors could re-open for a handful of American riders. In fact, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Armstrong will put the old gang back together to tear through France. Lance and Landis were a pretty formidable team not too long ago – neither man is too old for a ride down memory lane.
Of course Armstrong isn’t guaranteed a spot in the Tour next summer. It’s not crazy to think that Christian Prudhomme and his minions that head the Tour de France do not want Armstrong to race and save his sport. It wouldn’t seem as if Prudhomme could do something as dumb and arrogant as to keep Armstrong out of the race, but it wouldn’t be surprising either.
Nevertheless, published reports indicate that Armstrong will join the Astana squad – a team that did not compete in the 2008 Tour de France after top rider Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during the surreal ’07 race. These days, though, Team Astana has new personnel, like director Johan Brunyel, who was Armstrong’s hand-picked boss of the U.S. Postal and Discovery teams.
Interestingly, a rumor that has gained some strength (and makes sense) has Armstrong buying the Astana team franchise to turn it into his own juggernaut… as if Postal and Discovery weren’t his in the first place.
Certainly if Armstrong took control of Astana, it would be very easy for him to add the riders and components he wants. Maybe by then Landis will be ready to go back to France.