Floyd Landis
Floyd Landis (courtesy Phonak)

The Graduates

From 1996 to 2004, the U.S. Postal Service pro cycling squad, a.k.a. Lance's team, was a veritable Harvard Business School for ascendant cyclists. As lieutenants and workhorses for Armstrong during his six straight Tour victories, these tenacious students learned the tactics, training, and focus it takes to win cycling's biggest competitions. Here's the lowdown

Floyd Landis

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Floyd Landis

Tour de France 2005

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Floyd Landis

Floyd Landis Floyd Landis

Age 29 Class of 2004
In February 2004, the San Diegan whom Robin Williams calls the Mofo of the Mountains scored his biggest win yet, Portugal’s five-day, 444-mile Volta ao Algarve. But it was his blistering pace and near win over 127 Alpine miles in Stage 17 of last year’s Tour that proved his podium potential. After three seasons with USPS, he’s now top dog for Switzerland’s Phonak.

Roberto Heras

Age 31 Class of 2003
Spain’s Liberty Seguros–Wüh team paid out a reported $1.47 million to buy Heras’s Postal contract after he spent three years pulling Armstrong up the long climbs in the Tour. While he’s had limited success in France (last year his training peaked too early in the season, causing him to drop out), the featherweight Spaniard has claimed three victories in the 21-stage, 2,013-mile Vuelta a España, making him a threat in any race.

Christian Vande Velde

Age 29 Class of 2003
Supporting Team CSC leader Ivan Basso will be this Boulder, Colorado–based climbing specialist, who helped Armstrong up and over the mountains for two years and did the same in the 2003 Vuelta for USPS teammate and eventual winner Heras. But don’t expect Vande Velde to play third fiddle forever—his CSC coach, Bjarne Riis, is known for turning good riders into superstars.

Tom Boonen

Age 24 Class of 2002
The Belgian sprinter spent one year with Lance & Co. before jumping to Quick-Step, of Belgium. This spring, Boonen established himself as the new king of the one-day Classics, winning the prestigious 159-mile Tour of Flanders and then, seven days later, pulling away from Lance sidekick George Hincapie to nab the legendary 161-mile Paris–Roubaix.

Levi Leipheimer

Age 31 Class of 2001
The Santa Rosa, California, mountain specialist capped off two years on Postal with a breakout third-place finish in the 2001 Vuelta a España. He then joined the Dutch squad Rabobank and earned two top-ten finishes in Paris, in 2002 and 2004. As captain of his new German team, Gerolsteiner, he’s been given the green light to focus all his training on the Tour—and win it.

Tyler Hamilton

Age 34 Class of 2001
Hamilton was banned for two years by USA Cycling for alleged doping violations at last year’s Vuelta a España, but his seven years on USPS helped them become the Yankees of the peloton. The Boulder resident became a legend after the 2003 Tour, when he won Stage 16 with a 59-mile solo breakaway and finished fourth in Paris for CSC—all with a fractured collarbone.

From Outside Magazine, Jul 2005
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Lead Photo: courtesy Phonak