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Landis Says He's Up to the Challenge

Tour winner predicts he will bounce back from hip surgery just as he did after bad day in the race.

July 25, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Floyd Landis has what it takes to be cycling's new star. He has a devilish grin, an unbreakable racing will, a Tour de France title to bring home to the United States. Lance Armstrong is trying to recruit him to join the Discovery Channel team, which the seven-time Tour winner partly owns.

But Landis also has a degenerating right hip condition and that makes his future very uncertain.

"I would like to have the surgery done within the next month," Landis said Monday on a conference call from Paris. "The recovery is six to eight weeks and then I should be able to train. By next spring I probably won't be in the same shape I was this spring but I'll be back racing without any trouble."

For those who will discount his chances and for those who might hesitate to offer him sponsorship opportunities and advertising dollars, Landis has a pointed suggestion.

"I'm looking at this as just another challenge," he said. "Just like the bad day I had in the mountains. I see this the same way. If it affects people's judgment of whether I'll be as valuable later, they'll have to wait and see.

"A lot of people predicted a lot of bad things when I had the bad day. I would take a lesson from that if I were them."

His "bad day" last week had dropped Landis from first to 11th place at the Tour. A day later, Landis rode what some consider the single best stage in Tour history to move back into third place.

Landis rode for Phonak, a hearing-device company based in Switzerland, but his contract is up at the end of this season. So is Phonak's seven-year deal as presenting sponsor. That role will be assumed by San Francisco's iShares, the brand name for the world's largest range of exchange-traded funds.

Armstrong said last week that he would like Discovery Channel to sign 30-year-old Landis to be the team leader, but Landis said Monday that he was "leaning strongly" toward signing with iShares and hoped to have a deal done within two weeks.

Jay Parson, managing director of iShares, said Landis' health issues are not a concern.

"If someone can win with a busted hip," he said, "imagine what he can do when it's fixed. Plus, he's a quality person and I think that comes across."

Phonak reportedly dropped its sponsorship because of the bad publicity the sport and its team have received as a result of doping scandals. Another American, Tyler Hamilton, was Phonak's lead rider until he was suspended two years ago for blood doping.

Parsons said iShares still sees cycling as a good fit. "We're growing very rapidly in Europe," he said. "Cycling is still a great way to get your brand recognized around the world."

Jim Andrews, editorial director of IEG Sponsorships Report, said that Landis and Discovery Channel, the major U.S. team, would benefit if Landis jumped ship.

"It would be good for both of them," Andrews said. "Floyd is now the most famous active American cyclist. I know the average sports fan wondered why he was wearing that 'other' jersey. Discovery Channel was recognized as Lance's team, the American team. And it would benefit Discovery to have the most recognizable rider to American fans."

Despite Landis' words about his post-surgery career, Andrews said the looming operation and the fact few major sports athletes have competed at an elite level with a new hip will cause sponsors to hold back.

"It's too big a risk right now," Andrews said. "On the other hand, if he comes back from the surgery and is competing at a high level, then you've got something."

Lawrence Dorr, a hip-replacement surgeon and the medical director of the Arthritis Institute at Centinela Freeman Hospital in Los Angeles, said he would not be surprised to see Landis contending at the Tour de France next year.

"For him to ride in a competitive race," Dorr said, "it would be a minimum of six months to do it safely. Bones take six months to heal. That said, I had a patient climb to the top of Mt. McKinley six months out.

"If he gets a very high-quality operation, he can function at a high-quality level. I think he will be able to do it."

For now, Landis plans to ride in some one-day races in Holland this week, a tradition for Tour champions. Then he'll come home to Murrieta. There are a couple of television talk show opportunities, then surgery. "Then I'll be back," Landis said. "Racing."

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