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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

An ugly American? Not Landis

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

It was one thing when Lance Armstrong of the United States won that most prized of French sporting treasures, the Tour de France, a record seventh consecutive time last summer.

And then when, during the ESPYs recently, Armstrong said of France's national heroes, its World Cup soccer team, "all their players tested positive...for being (bleeps)."

But, now, another American, Floyd Landis, has a chance to ride up the Champs-Elysees to victory. The possibility of another rendition of the Star Spangled Banner wafting through Paris' grandest boulevard?

Sacre bleu!

It has to be tough for the more xenophobic in a land where no Frenchman has won the event in 21 years but where Americans have won 10 of the past 20. And, now, another one is telling the media, "I came here to win the Tour" and appearing able to back it up.

As words likely to endear, "Lafayette we are here," they are not.

Entering the overnight stage, Landis was positioned to go for the champagne in Sunday's finale. He was in third place, 30 seconds behind leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain, following a one-for-the-books comeback in the 103-year-old event, yesterday's astonishing leap from 11th place.

The way Landis did it and the condition he's been doing it in, however, just might separate him from the Armstrong shadow in the minds of some in France. A place where, except for some grudging acceptance, Armstrong became hard for a lot of the French to like, easy for the media to target and a convenient target of performance-enhancing rumors.

The 30-year-old Landis, from California via Pennsylvania Mennnonite country, has so far shown signs of being perceived differently than the man he once rode in support of. Landis is someone to be respected for his daring as much as his mettle. Both of which were highlighted in knocking nearly eight minutes off the time he trailed the leader yesterday during the 124.3-mile final Alpine stage.

"The best performance in the modern history of the Tour," as race director Jean-Marie Leblanc gushingly told the media.

All accomplished while pedaling furiously with osteoncrosis, a degenerative bone condition that also afflicted Bo Jackson, and has Landis scheduled to have hip replacement surgery in the fall. But not enough to deter his audacity or deny his charges.

"He is just showing that he's a real soldier," Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour, told the Associated Press. "I'm a big fan of Floyd today...He's got an aggressive streak."

Time will tell if Landis can parlay that characteristic into one of the tougher cultural and competitive double plays to be found anywhere, being an American winner embraced in the finicky home of the Tour.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.