Friday, July 21, 2006
Do yourself a favor: Watch Landis
By Jim Caple
Let me see if you find this athlete's backstory slightly more interesting than whether Barry Bonds will get indicted or Barbaro will ever walk again.
This athlete grew up a Mennonite in Lancaster County. His parents were against him pursuing his sport on religious grounds, so his father sought to discourage him by trying to exhaust him with long hours of chores during the day. To no avail. He simply trained late at night, sometimes until two in the morning. Outside, in the dark and the rain and the snow and the ice and the sub-zero temperatures.
This man also served as a lieutenant to one of the most successful and popular athletes in America, helping him win repeated championships.
He took the lead in his sport's biggest event one day and cracked physically the next day to fall hopelessly out of contention, yet somehow pulled himself back into the running the day after that with what many consider among the great performances in the sport's history.
And oh, yes, one more thing. A previously broken hip now has the same problem that ended Bo Jackson's career and will have to be replaced with an artificial one after this competition.
Interesting, huh? So why isn't more attention directed to Floyd Landis?
Oh, I know. It's cycling and Americans watch cycling even less than they watch soccer. The only time cyclists get any attention is when gas-guzzling, ozone-eating SUV drivers are giving them the finger for taking up 24 inches of valuable road. Fine, I can understand that. Hell, I can't say exactly why I enjoy watching the Tour de France. It goes on for hour after repetitive hour, with the monotony interrupted by an occasional breakaway that is almost always chased down. This is particularly true in the early sprint stages. You watch the same type of images over and over followed by a last-second dash to the finish line. And yet I still find it very relaxing and oddly addictive. It's soothing, like watching the ocean's tide roll in and out.
Plus, there are the Podium Girls.
But I can easily understand why others aren't as eager to watch this acquired taste (especially as the races take place early in the day). What is less understandable is the lack of attention Landis is receiving in the media.
It's almost harder to watch TV without seeing "Law and Order" than it was to watch TV without seeing Lance Armstrong as he went for his seventh Tour title. He was on more magazine covers than Brad and Angelina. Everyone wore a yellow Livestrong wristband. The attention was well-deserved, but where is the spotlight for Landis? I mean, this is an American with an amazing background who very well might extend our country's Tour de France streak to eight consecutive victories. And yet there is more attention on Barbaro's broken leg than Landis' powerful legs. Heck, Lance got more attention for hosting the ESPYS than Landis has gotten.
It can't all be about Lance, can it? Armstrong may have been a great champion, but his victories also were almost foregone conclusion midway through the Tour. There was very little drama last year. Lance got the yellow jersey early and held onto it the rest of the way. We all knew he was going to win after the first week or so. The only question was whether we might see Sheryl Crow in the celebration. That's not the case this year, where there have already been seven riders to wear the yellow jersey, riders flipping over guard rails, riders eating the pavement, riders bloodied by fans crowding the roadway and riders cracking in the Alps.
That includes Landis, who in one three-day span of mountain stages took the Tour lead, then lost it and fell out of the top 10 in a ride so horrible he could have been passed by Heidi delivering papers on her Schwinn Sting-Ray. And then he nearly got the lead back with a spectacular ride that regained him nearly eight minutes. That last stage featured grueling climbs and an exhilarating final sprint down the mountain. Landis' comeback from Wednesday's collapse was extraordinary, the stuff of legend. The only way it could have been more dramatic is if he were carrying flu serum to a remote French village.
Yet what was the day's big news? Barry Bonds' not being indicted.
We're missing the boat on this one, but it's not too late. The Tour is still very much up in the air and probably will come down to Saturday's time trial, in which Landis is among the favorites (he is third overall, 30 seconds behind leader Oscar Pereiro, but he's considered a better a time trialist than Pereiro).
So do yourself a favor. Pop into the TV coverage Saturday morning. This could be the year's most dramatic sports story that doesn't involve an autistic manager.
Plus, there are the Podium Girls.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.