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Friday, July 21, 2006
What Landis needs to do to win Saturday's time trial

By Andrew Hood
Special to ESPN.com

MACON, France -- A day after one of the most spectacular rides in Tour de France history, Floyd Landis is sitting pretty going into Saturday's decisive time trial with the yellow jersey prime for the picking.

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
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.
The 30-year-old is obviously a man of few words and prefers to let his legs do the talking. On Thursday, those legs roared, erasing a 10-minute gap to claw his way back from the Tour grave and vaulting from 11th to third.

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:

Execute
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.

Don't overlook the competition
Landis can't afford to get too cocky. Tour history is chock-full of overconfident favorites who were knocked out in the late rounds. Both Pereiro and Sastre are facing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to win the Tour. Both came to the Tour to help their respective team captains, but Ivan Basso was kicked out for being implicated in a blood-doping scandal, while Alejandro Valverde crashed out with a broken clavicle in the first week. The yellow jersey gives everyone wings. Pereiro and Sastre will give everything to pull the ultimate upset and deliver Spain's first Tour victory since Miguel Indurain won his last of five straight Tours in 1995.

Avoid problems
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.

Andrew Hood is a freelance writer based in Spain who has covered the Tour de France for ESPN.com since 1996.