By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Even though the defending champion of the inaugural Tour of California was unable to race in this year's edition, Floyd Landis was still a presence at the event. The American, who tested positive for testosterone in stage 17 of the Tour de France and is waiting for his USADA hearing, took time to help his sponsors and raise money for his legal defence fund.
He signed autographs in the health and wellness expo for the company that developed the device that was used in his hip resurfacing. He also appeared at town hall style meetings for the Floyd Fairness Fund fundraisers that paralleled some of the race and at the finish in Sacramento, where he attended a multi-purpose press event organized by the BMC team to act as a team presentation. At the BMC event, Landis presented Davis Phinney with the bike he rode in the 2006 Tour de France to be auctioned for Phinney's foundation.
"We are here is because we have a guy that has been dealt a bad hand," Landis said. "Every time I see him he is still smiling and still working hard to make something good out of it. That inspires me more than anything else in the world."
"I am very pleased to have one of Floyd's bikes," said Phinney. "That is going to have a big impression with our ability to raise money. We promote living positive with the disease. The funds from this bike will go directly into a fund to pay for research that will validate the benefit of exercise for Parkinson's patients."
Landis did say that he is using the race he won last year to help raise funds with his defence (race organisers never formally invited Landis to the race events). "Obviously tonight is nothing about me, it's all about [Phinney]," he said. "He is a champ. But for me there are a couple of other reasons. I am here for Smith and Nephew, they make the hip resurfacing device and have a booth here, so I am trying to help educate people on the new resurfacing procedure they do.
"Apart from that, the rest of the nonsense, I am still working on getting people to look at the facts more than anything. I think we are making progress. There was a lot of damage in the beginning with a lot of mis-statements from all of the leaders from the UCI, WADA..."
Landis did concede that being at the race as a spectator was not easy for him. "I don't enjoy being at a bike race when I can't race! I'm a cycling fan but it is painful to not race. What matters is the system needs to be changed so that this doesn't happen again. I'm not saying that everyone in the past has been innocent or guilty, I don't know. But one thing is for sure, if the guy that wins the Tour can't come up with the resources to even fight the case then there is no chance for anybody."
Landis' presence at this event, which was primarily organised as a team presentation for the new BMC team, did make sense due to his long standing friendship with BMC owner Andy Rihs. However, there was a little speculation in the air of whether this was an indication of a team for Landis to make a return to professional cycling. "I have no plans right now," Landis chuckled. "Andy is my friend and has supported me from the beginning. He is wonderful for this sport and the way he was treated by the UCI was despicable. That friendship will never change and that is why I am here. Every day right now is focused on fixing the problem."
The hearing with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is scheduled to open May 14.