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Landis' Mennonite town celebrates in muted fashion

7/23/2006

FARMERSVILLE, Pa. -- As Floyd Landis crossed the Tour de
France finish line Sunday, his devout Mennonite parents were riding
their own bicycles home from church.

Paul and Arlene Landis were so confident their son would win
cycling's greatest race they didn't have to choose between going to
church and watching it on TV at a neighbor's house.

"I'm glad we didn't have to make that choice. Church is very
important to us," Arlene Landis said. "We felt in our hearts he
was going to win. He is not one to take second place."

The couple and their neighbors in this tiny hamlet in the heart
of Pennsylvania Dutch country were celebrating Sunday after Floyd
Landis' unlikely victory, which keeps cycling's most prestigious
title in American hands for an eighth straight year.

At Farmersville's only intersection a short distance from the
Landis home, neighbors scrawled: "Floyd Landis, World Winner of
Tour de France 2006, -10:00 to +.59, USA." Cyclists and motorists
alike snapped photos of the message, spraypainted in gigantic
yellow letters, that referred to the huge time deficit Landis
overcame to win the Tour.

Well-wishers also flocked to the Landis home, a white farmhouse
bordered by cornfields in Farmersville, a rural crossroads of a
couple dozen homes just outside the borough of Ephrata in eastern
Pennsylvania.

Sunday, the home was festooned with green and yellow balloons,
the colors of Landis' Phonak team. On the front lawn, signs
showcased the divergence of cultures -- "To God be the glory" and
"Floyd's the man."

Inside, visitors got a look at Phonak jersey signed "To Dad"
and a Le Tour de France chocolate and vanilla layer cake with green
and yellow icing, baked specially by Landis' mom for a celebration
later Sunday night.

"[All the attention] just really humbled me," said Arlene
Landis. "I think this is terrific."

All who visited, friend and stranger, were greeted warmly by
Paul and Arlene, who questioned their 30-year-old son's obsession
with cycling when he was a teenager and were saddened when he chose
to leave the Mennonite fold.

On Sunday, they said they felt "joy" at his victory and hoped
he will use it to glorify God.

"People in any profession who do their best are often lifted up
as examples, and I want his life to be a life of integrity and an
example to young people," Arlene Landis said.

Landis bought his first mountain bike at age 15 at Green
Mountain Cyclery, a local shop. He won the first mountain bike race
he entered. Two years later, in 1993, he was crowned a junior
national champion. At age 20, he decided to move to southern
California to train full time.

All along, he told friends he would win the Tour de France
someday.

After a disastrous ride Wednesday in which he plunged to 11th
place, Landis put himself back into contention Thursday with a
once-in-a-lifetime ride in the Alps.

Arlene Landis, who has walked to a neighbor's house each morning
to watch the Tour, said she felt the hand of God in that
performance.

"I just feel like that was given to him not to lift him up but
to show God gives strength in the face of disappointment," she
said.

As Landis rode the final leg to Paris on Sunday, his parents
attended 9 a.m. Sunday school and 10 a.m. worship at Martindale
Mennonite Church, a conservative congregation of about 400 people.

Floyd's name wasn't mentioned, not even as a joy or prayer
request, and congregants seemed ambivalent about his success.
Landis, the second of six children, was raised in this church,
whose members live simply and eschew the larger culture.

"We are disappointed with the lifestyle he lives, but I love
him as a friend and care about him," said a church member, Nelson
Weaver, 34.

One of Martindale's pastors, David Sensenig, said recognition of
individual accomplishment is frowned on in Mennonite faith.
Nevertheless, he said Floyd Landis was still the talk of the
congregation.

"Winning the race isn't the big deal," Sensenig said. "It's
what he does with the results, with the fame and fortune. He can
use his influence for the betterment of the church, of Christ."

Paul Landis said he sees the victory as a chance to spread the
Gospels and looks forward to meeting people he never otherwise
would have met.

"I want to hear their victories and their sorrows, and we can
encourage each other," he said.