News feature, March 12, 2006
Floyd Landis (Phonak) is rapidly maturing as a team leader, winning two stage races on the trot: The Tour of California and now Paris-Nice. After a brilliant attack with Patxi Vila to finish second in the third stage to St Etienne, Landis rode consistently for the next four days, supported by a motivated and hard working team that neutralised any threats to the American. His eyes are now on the Tour de France in July, as Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner reports from Floyd's final press conference in Nice.
Q: What happened in the descent of the Col de la Porte, you crashed?
FL: Yes, there was some gravel on that downhill. There have been some dangerous downhills in this race and I think I can be happy to have crashed only once!
Q: People say that you are a different man now. What has changed?
FL: What has mainly changed is the team. We have a lot of different riders but a very focused atmosphere - I couldn't have done it without them. We have been through some ups and downs together and it builds character, as we say.
I've sort of been through some ups and downs myself; that last year was the first where I had to take some racing decisions on my own and try to be the leader. It was a learning experience and now it seems to have paid off.
Q: What's the harder thing to do, guide the team as a leader or rider the race in itself?
FL: It's not so difficult to be a leader when you have a group of people who like each other and care about each other. So the racing is still more difficult at this point.
Q: Does this victory and the confirmation for the team make you more confident for the Tour now, and how did that influence this race?
FL: The confidence in the team was most important, and to stay focused on one objective. But as to confidence for the Tour, this is not the Tour de France. This is a race in March and the Tour is the hardest race in the world so you can't compare the two. The last two races have been very good for the team morale and for our confidence in the team's ability to work together.
Q: Were you worried about anybody in particular in the last couple of stages?
FL: Not anyone in particular, no. I was more worried about the circumstances of the race - like yesterday, a breakaway with 19 riders is hard to keep within a time of the best rider in the group. I was more concerned with just the ability to keep the race under control than to have somebody break away and take the lead from us.
Q: How did your time with Lance Armstrong influence your ability for leadership?
FL: There's a long list of things that Lance did that made him the leader that he was. Primarily, he was the best bicycle racer in the world, so it was fun to work for him because you knew he would win. The easiest way to get a team to work for you is to prove that you can win. So we'll start with that. But there were other qualities that made him a good leader: he didn't mind having the responsibility of a team working for him - it's not always easy to know that seven or eight guys are spending everything they have for you and you're not feeling great, for example. So hopefully, I'll do the best I can in that.
Q: What are your objectives for the Giro d'Italia?
FL: My plan is to do the Giro, but solely and primarily as training and nothing else. So don't expect to see much of me at the Giro.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the post-Armstrong era? Do you feel you have to step into that space for the American public?
FL: The only relation that I have with Lance's career is that I spent three years racing with him. As far as him retiring is concerned, and somebody replacing him, that's next to impossible. So I won't try to fill any kind of space that was left by him, I just want to be myself and win races that I can win. If some of his fans become my fans in that process, then so be it.
Q: A few weeks you said that there were about ten riders able to win the Tour this year. Does your success here change that perspective for July?
FL: No, we came here to race as well as we could. It's a difficult race to win because there was no mountaintop finish and no long time trial for me. But in some ways I was lucky: I had a good day on a very difficult stage and got enough time on the other guys that I could maintain the lead. The Tour is another story: the Tour you don't get lucky and win; you have to be good every day for three weeks. So nothing has changed in our minds; we still maintain the same focus.
Q: Does it worry you that your main rivals in July are not yet even racing at this time of the year; and that you are already in very good shape?
FL: I'm focused on what I and my team are doing. As far as other riders are concerned, that's their business.
Q: Are you at the top of your form now?
FL: If I say anything other than that I'm at a 100 percent I'll sound like an asshole.[laughs] I trained hard this winter and this was not the primary focus of our year but we do race to win - a lot of the time it doesn't work but so far we've been very lucky.