I hate to say this, but I believe Floyd Landis lost the overall lead for good Wednesday at the Tour de France.
I am completely shocked by what happened. If there was one rider who I thought could attack and dominate Wednesday's Alps stage, it was Landis. He was riding so strong and seemed to be conserving energy, but maybe he was playing it too safe. I think a lot of us were frustrated, because we wanted to see Landis make an attack and deliver the death blow to the field. I thought Landis was capable of that.
Wednesday was definitely the hardest stage of the Tour. As I mentioned Tuesday, the stage has so many climbs in close succession that a rider doesn't have time to come up for air. It looked like a death march out there Wednesday. Instead of it taking minutes to reel in riders, it was taking seconds.
At the beginning of the day, Landis seemed to be playing it smart by staying with the pack and marking Andreas Kloeden, who was leading the peloton with his T-Mobile team. When the TV broadcast here in Nice came back from a commercial, I saw that Landis was alone, and my first thought was, "Oh, he broke away from the pack." But then I realized he was the one that was left behind.
He had a look on his face like he lost a lot of sugar. Landis must have expended too much energy during the stage and just couldn't push his body anymore. We call it a "bonk." I've been in that situation before, and I know exactly how Landis felt out there. It's like there's a hold over your body where you just can't go over a certain speed and there is nothing you can do about it. Even if you eat and drink at that breaking point, it won't help. Then, when you see rider after rider pass you, you hit a mental wall, as well. It's so difficult to regain focus in a situation like that, no matter how hard you try.
I know some might say that his hip condition played a part in this, but I don't think that's true. Landis was strong out there up the L'Alpe d'Huez, so his hip can't be great on one day and bad the next. If he were riding poorly for the entire Tour, then I'd question his hip. Not here, though.
Some might also point to last Saturday's stage where the Phonak team gave up the yellow jersey and allowed an almost 30-minute gap to Oscar Pereiro, who now leads the Tour again. Sure, hindsight is 20-20. It could be easy to point to that as a gamble. Phonak went with a plan that it thought was best for Landis and the team. But maybe they played it too hesitantly. I said after that stage that it was dangerous to let a rider like Pereiro back in the race.
Knowing Landis, he's not looking for any excuses to explain Wednesday's outcome. This just happens. A bad day can happen to any rider in any race. But the Tour de France is the ultimate dose of reality. There are crashes and illness and tactical missteps. That's what makes Lance Armstrong's wins that much more amazing, because he always avoided those pitfalls ... for seven straight years!
I don't think an American needs to win the Tour for there to be interest in the sport in the United States. Sure, Americans want to see Americans in the lead, and I think many of us expected another yellow jersey in Paris. I was pulling for Landis, but maybe we were pushing the envelope by expecting an eighth straight Tour victory? We also should not forget what Landis has accomplished here -- some cyclists never get to wear yellow.
The race, though, is far from over.
While Landis is likely out of the running for the overall win (8:08 is just too much time to try to make up), he can still bounce back and try for a podium spot. As unpredictable as this race has been so far, there can still be more surprises to come.
Wednesday was a very hard stage, and riders will be tired Thursday for the Tour's final ride in the Alps. The stage goes about 65 kilometers before riders start to climb. The first climb is not too bad, but the last climb of the day to Col de Joux-Plane is. It's only a 12K climb, but it's really steep at almost an 8.5-percent gradient. It's one of the steepest climbs in the Alps. A team likely will control the peloton until that final climb, and then there could be some attacks. A true climber like Carlos Sastre, my Team CSC mate, who is now second overall in the race, has nothing to lose by attacking full out Thursday.
But keep an eye on all the leaders Thursday during that final climb. As Wednesday proved, anything can happen at the Tour de France.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, is providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.