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Murrieta Backpedals on Landis Festivities

Tour de France champ's hometown puts parade and events on hold while awaiting a new drug test.

July 28, 2006|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

Celebrations were put on hold and giddiness checked as Murrieta residents struggled Thursday with news that the results of hometown hero Floyd Landis' drug tests have called into question the cyclist's stunning come-from-behind victory last week in the Tour de France.

But tests or no tests, no one in this southwest Riverside County city wanted to believe that Landis won by anything less than sheer grit and determination, despite high levels of testosterone discovered in his blood.

"We have every faith in him and his team," said Victoria "Mom" Barringer, whose family owns i.e. Bikes, where Landis is a frequent visitor. "He has a great deal of talent and a great deal of inner strength. I don't believe he would do anything stupid like this. He's a great racer, and his talent got him here."

The International Cycling Union said tests showed the 30-year-old cyclist had "unusually high levels" of testosterone in his blood during the race. A second test was being done to confirm the findings. Landis has been suspended from his team, and if the second test is positive, he could be fired and lose his title as Tour de France champion.

"I'm not going to believe or react to anything until I see the evidence," said Scott Richardson, a Murrieta high school teacher. "He's a professional. If you followed the race, you would have seen he was five minutes behind and he came back. That's the mark of a true champion."

Perhaps, but local officials are hedging their bets, postponing plans for a parade and other events on Landis' return.

"Everything is on hold now," said city spokeswoman Simone McFarland. "We are waiting to see what the drug test results show."

Still, five huge banners saying "Welcome Home Floyd Landis, Tour de France Winner" will be put in place today near Interstates 15 and 215.

"He is still technically the winner," McFarland said.

Mayor Kelly Seyarto said he couldn't imagine a jolt of testosterone suddenly turning Landis into a "superhuman in one day."

"It's not my place to pass judgment," he said. "All I know is he did something amazing over there, and we absolutely welcome him home no matter what the outcome."

Landis grew up in a Mennonite family in Farmersville, Pa. Those who know him say he arrived in Murrieta about five years ago, choosing it because it was a relatively affordable place to buy a house for his family and close to plenty of bike routes.

Murrieta and neighboring Temecula have grown over the last decade from small ranching towns to sprawling exurbs of about 90,000 residents each. Yet both cities are popular with cyclists because they are surrounded by rural highways, rugged mountain trails and wide, empty expanses.

Cyclists routinely ride to Idyllwild, the Santa Rosa Plateau, De Luz and sometimes as far as Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Those who have ridden with Landis say he is a phenomenon.

One of the toughest rides is up Mount Palomar in San Diego County.

"Palomar is what every biker gauges themselves against," said Jim Dover, coach of the i.e. Bikes racing team and who has been on rides with Landis. "The fastest I ever did it was in 38 minutes, and Floyd does it at 25. It is 6.6 miles uphill. That just blows my mind."

Dover said he had been with Landis when the professional cyclist had received calls to come home and be tested for drugs. Under those circumstances, he said, using illegal drugs would be a big risk.

"I don't want to believe it's true. I don't want to believe it about anybody until that person says they did it," said Dover, 47, of Temecula. "I really wish people would do the right thing and say, 'You know what, it's just a bike race and I cheated.' I think it hurts the sport and it hurts humanity because it makes us seem so petty."

Back at i.e. Bikes, large, colorful pictures of Landis and the Tour de France hung over the cash register. Bill Dixon, who did the drawings, had made an enormous card covered with good wishes from locals for the cyclist.

Dixon, 41, didn't believe the results of the drug test and suspected foul play.

"It could be another stab from the French the way they have accused Lance Armstrong," he said. "Maybe they were jealous that another American won."

Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times but has remained under a cloud of suspicion over persistent allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

In the back of the store, Dominic Hayes, 13, rummaged through some bike tires. Having grown up in a world replete with scandal over athletes and steroid use, he showed little sympathy.

"If Floyd Landis cheated," he said simply, "he should be banned from the sport."

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