|ESPN.com: Tour de France 2006||[Print without images]|
Just 30 seconds behind a pair of skinny Spanish mountain goats (leader Oscar Pereiro and Carlos Sastre), Landis is in third place overall and on the cusp of history. But you wouldn't know it by looking at him after Friday's broiling stage across the Jura Mountains in eastern France.
"[Friday] went fine," smiled Landis, looking fresh in his rock-star sunglasses and T-shirt after finishing safely in the bunch. "I'm confident in my time trial. I am optimistic, yes."
|Floyd Landis left the pack behind in Thursday's historic Stage 17. Now, he has to make sure he's fresh and hydrated for the time trial.|
On Saturday, it's a matter of letting instinct take over and simply doing what he does best. He's just 30 seconds behind Pereiro and 18 seconds behind second-place Sastre.
With just two days left in the three-week Tour de France, here's what Landis has to watch out for in his quest to become the third American to win the Tour:
Landis is the five-star favorite to win both the stage and to bounce into the overall lead. All season long, Landis has been posting strong results in the time trial, where riders head out on the course one at a time in a race against the clock. With so much on the line, Landis just has to ride the time trial that he normally does and he should be able to erase the differences. In the Tour's first time trial, a hilly, 52-kilometer course in France's Brittany region, Landis was second at 1:01 behind specialist Serhiy Honchar, but he was 1:10 faster than Sastre and 1:40 faster than Pereiro. Saturday's longer -- and flatter -- course should favor Landis even more. Do the math -- Landis should be in the jersey.
So far this Tour, Landis has been plagued by small glitches in the first two time trials. In the opening prologue in Strasbourg, Landis was forced to make a panicky, last-minute wheel change when a mechanic spied a cut on his tire. Rather than risk a potentially disastrous puncture, the team made the call to do the switch and Landis missed his start by eight seconds, a difference that likely cost him the yellow jersey on the Tour's first day after finishing ninth at nine seconds back. Then, in the Rennes time trial, Landis was forced to make a bike change after his handlebars snapped just 13 kilometers into the 52-kilometer course. Landis was grateful he didn't crash after such a catastrophic mishap. Just an hour before the race, Landis was also forced to lower his handlebars to meet strict positioning requirements, something that will need to be worked out ahead of Saturday's race.
Avoid a meltdown
The human body isn't a robot that can be programmed. Landis' spectacular collapse in Wednesday's climbing stage to La Toussuire is testament to that. Landis went deep in Thursday's heroics and he needs to make sure he stays hydrated as temperatures are expected to push into the mid-90s on Saturday with oppressive humidity. It seemed Landis had a water bottle in his hand every five minutes in Thursday's escapade to stay cool and hydrated, but strict rules during time trials allow water bottles to be passed up only at the feed zone at 34 kilometers.
Race 'like he stole something'
That was the line Lance Armstrong used when Landis attacked into Grand Bornand late in the final hard mountain stage of the 2004 Tour, when the pair were still teammates on the U.S. Postal Service team. Landis' best moments come when he's riding with intensity and anger. Thursday's exploit was fueled by rage following his Wednesday meltdown. He can't lose that intensity or he could blow his chance to win the Tour.