Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong went on the attack Friday, even though he was a day removed from the Tour of California after having crashed just outside Visalia.
Posted on his team's website Friday morning was a series of e-mails to and from former teammate Floyd Landis in which the disgraced cyclist appears angry and bitter, at one point ignoring pleas from his sponsor to avoid a public fight.
It also was a day in which a skinny Australian named Michael Rogers battled high desert winds and a gruesome amount of up and down mountain climbing to cling to a four-second lead in the Amgen Tour of California after a 135-mile, six-hour-plus Stage 6 ride from Palmdale to Big Bear.
The cycling was, Rogers said, "heroic," by everybody in the battered peloton, but the talking points of the day came from the posted e-mails sent to, among others, Armstrong, Landis' doctor and sponsor Brent Kay and AEG's Andrew Messick, who runs the Tour of California.
"Even a superficial review reveals a troubling, angry and misplaced effort at retribution by Landis for his perceived slights," said a statement posted on Armstrong's RadioShack team website.
Landis had won the inaugural Tour of California in 2006 as well as the 2006 Tour de France but was eventually stripped of his Tour de France title after a failed drug test. After spending nearly $2 million fighting the charges and writing a book proclaiming his innocence, Landis this week acknowledged his doping practices and claimed that Armstrong, three-time Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie and U.S. road racing champion George Hincapie also engaged in doping.
In one of the e-mails released by Armstrong, Landis lobbied for his current team, Bahati Racing, to be included in this year's Tour of California.
After thanking Messick for helping schedule a meeting with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Landis wrote Messick: "Dr. Kay who owns Ouch has taken over as title sponsor of the Bahati Foundation team and has, months ago, bought a VIP tent for the last day of TOC and has strong interest in having the team in the TOC. Therefore I think it reasonable, in the event that you cannot add his team to the TOC, that you refund the 40K that Dr Kay has paid for the tent since, for one he has been snubbed from the race and moreover the 40K along with all the other money that you leverage from small American teams ends up deposited directly into Lance Armstrongs account as an appearance fee."
Messick, in an interview Friday, rejected Landis' suggestion that money from sponsors went to Armstrong and called the accusation "massively inappropriate."
The Wall Street Journal broke the story about the e-mails, which Landis had sent to national and international cycling officials and anti-doping agencies accusing his former teammates and others of using or helping riders use performance-enhancing drugs. Messick said that he had lunch with the former champion on April 3, during which Landis laid out those allegations.
"I told him, did he expect anybody to believe him after he testified under oath, written a book, gone on Larry King and said he never used and he said he didn't care," Messick said.
"Floyd continued to send e-mails," Messick said. "Instead of him clearing his conscience, they seemed focused on the injustice of his team not being a part of this race. We followed the Bahati team carefully and it didn't have the track record to compete in our race. . . . Floyd felt that was personal and he was being singled out."
Landis has not responded to several e-mails asking for comment.
The Armstrong-Landis controversy overshadowed Friday's Tour of California, which has seen its television ratings drop slightly through Thursday in comparison with last year's race, which was held in February. Also almost unnoticed was the strong riding of the 30-year-old Rogers, who took solace from the cheering crowd along the route.
"All I can go on are the people on the side of the road," Rogers said. "They're calling out 'Mick Rogers,' calling out, 'HTC-Columbia.' We come here to race and we're not going to let things out of our control take this away. We control the only thing we can do. Mark Cavendish won a stage, I've got the yellow jersey.
"Our supporters, none of them likes to see this kind of thing happen, but we have to move on. We have to bring out the beautiful thing about this sport, the great achievement, the heroic efforts. Those are the things that are beautiful about this sport, and those are the things we have to concentrate on."
Peter Sagan, a 20-year-old from Slovakia who rides for Liquigas-Doimo, gained his second consecutive stage win, finishing in 6 hours 7 minutes 8 seconds. Rory Sutherland of United Healthcare was second and Rogers third.
Overall, Rogers holds a four-second lead over last year's runner-up, Zabriskie of Garmin-Transitions, a nine-second lead over Sagan and 14-second lead over Levi Leipheimer.
Saturday's stage is a 20.9-mile time trial that begins and ends at LA Live. Rogers, Zabriskie and Leipheimer all said Friday they expect the time trial to be decisive.
"It will have to happen tomorrow," Leipheimer said. "Zabriskie, Rogers and I are of the same time-trial level. It will be tough, but I'm confident."