Early last week, Tour de France favorite Floyd Landis dropped a bombshell: The American rider has been suffering from the bone disease osteonecrosis for two seasons and will require career-altering hip replacement surgery after the Tour. The painful condition, caused by a 2003 crash, has hardly slowed the 30-year-old rider down. After taking fourth in the grueling, mountainous Stage 5, the Phonak team leader was back in the yellow jersey, having put another minute on his closest rival, Denis Menchov of team Rabobank. Contributing editor Daniel Coyle, who profiled Landis in Outside's July cover story, "The New American in Paris," caught up with the rider in France about living with pain, sporting the yellow jersey, and what's down the road at the Tour.
Outside: What's been the reaction to the news from the other riders?
Landis: Now they know why I don't like it when people complain about stomachaches! No, everybody's been good about it. The only negative stuff was with [Discovery Channel team director Johan] Bruyneel, who said it was a publicity stunt, and that it was stupid to show a weakness. My response is, if it were a weakness, would I be at the front of the race? But if he wants to call it a weakness, fine, let's call it that. It's a weakness, and I'm so weak that I'm kicking their asses. Telling all this now is not meant to be some excuse. I'm actually proud that I got back. It's something that I got through. I was pretty scared for a long time that it wasn't going to work, and now it's working, and I'm proud of that.
What was the worst moment in this whole thing?
It's been two and a half years of this, so it's hard to pick one. But after the diagnosis and the second surgery [in November 2004, in which a dozen or so holes were drilled into Landis's hip to relieve pressure], I had to go from California to a training camp in Spain. I rode to the airport, like I usually do, to get in a workout before the flight. But I couldn't make it all the way. I was able to ride about 40 miles, and then I had to pull over at a gas station and call [my wife] Amber to come pick me up. I couldn't ride. I sat on the curb and cried.
How has living with the pain changed you?
Pretty much everybody is in a situation like this in life. Mine is just a lot more immediate. Like [doctor Brent] Kay told me, the hip's not going to last, so I've got to race every race like it's my last, which everybody should do anyway. Seeing life the way I was forced to see it is the way everybody should see it.
How do people in the medical field react to this?
I've gotten a lot of emails since the news about the hip came out. Support and advice mostlywhich is nice. Before this all came out, I think I mostly confused them. I remember once after last year's Tour when we were showing the X-rays to this doctor in Switzerland. He walked in, looked at the X-rays, and said, "That guy needs a hip replacement." Then we told him, "Actually, that guy just raced in the Tour de France, and finished ninth." The doctor just turned and walked out. He didn't say a word. I don't know if he was confused or thought we were lying or what, but he'd had enough."
Give a prediction for the next few days.
I usually get stronger as the Tour goes along. So don't worry, I'm going to be good.
To follow Floyd Landis's bid for his first Tour de France win, go to www.outsideonline.com/2006tour and to learn more about his forthcoming Floyd Landis Foundation, which will assist and educate people about hip replacements, go to www.floydlandisfoundation.org.