Floyd Landis, the disgraced former Tour de France champion, made San Diego and nearby Temecula his home and training base for years. I live and ride in San Diego and have several oblique connections to Floyd. I rode with him a couple of times on three- to five- hour training rides. I trained with his coach and advisor, Dr. Arnie Baker. I heard the local stories about Floyd’s early days in San Diego. And finally, I met his father-in-law by chance on the eve of the Landis tragedy that has been unfolding for years now and isn’t over yet.
People usually saw young Landis as goofy and awkward. He sought his revenge on a bicycle. He started as a mountain biker. When he became a roadie, he was unknown even locally. One of the stories that circulates about Floyd has to do with a road race early in his career. He went to the line with no team and pitiful gear, including argyle socks instead of cycling socks. This provoked open ridicule from his fellow competitors. They, of course, wore snazzy, matching team kit and rode the latest bikes. The story goes that Landis said, “Hey, you assholes, see this big chainring? I’m gonna put it in that big gear and ride away from you at the gun and you will never see me again until the finish line. Y’all are racing for second place.” And it was true.
The ingredients were anger, talent, and almost bizarre determination. Whenever Floyd performed some unbelievable feat, the local club riders would just say, “It’s impossible, but that’s Floyd.” He had a multi-year plan to win the Tour de France, and it worked.
A couple of days before Floyd won the Tour, purely by chance I was riding past a restaurant in my neighborhood when I saw a big poster of Floyd in the window. I stopped to look. A man came out of the restaurant to greet me. He was the owner. I asked him if he was interested in cycling. He said, “You bet; I’m a cyclist myself and Floyd Landis is my son-in-law. He used to be my roommate.”
When Floyd won the Tour, his father-in-law got on a plane, flew to Paris, and celebrated the victory with his daughter and Landis, her husband. Now Floyd would make real money, build a great team, emerge from Lance Armstrong’s shadow, and enjoy the respect of cyclists and fans everywhere. It was the apex of Floyd’s life and career.
Almost immediately the story came out that Floyd failed a drug test and might lose his title. About two weeks later, his father-in-law went to a parking garage a few blocks from my house and shot himself.
A little more than a year later Floyd and his wife parted.
After two years of litigation over the doping accusations, Floyd was in serious financial trouble. He lost his house. He lost his appeal, which had been partly funded by friends and fans and partly made with the help of volunteers. All the while he maintained his innocence and raged against the injustice. He wrote a book about it called “Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France.”
Earlier this year, a French judge issued an arrest warrant for both Floyd and his adviser, Dr. Baker. He wants to question them about the hacking of the computers of the French anti-doping lab that produced the positive doping results.
Then, in late May, Floyd publicly admitted that he had been doping all along and accused numerous star athletes, including Lance Armstrong, of doing the same.
I suppose that Landis has now run out of friends and support and money. He rides for a third-rate team. He is likely to face lawsuits for his accusations. His whole career has wound up to an almost perfect disaster, but I don’t think it’s over yet.