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Archive for Sunday, July 9, 2006

Landis struts his stuff

July 9, 2006

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— On a day when other U.S. riders struggled, crashed or complained, Floyd Landis set himself up as a leading contender in the Tour de France.

Landis finished second behind Ukraine's Sehiy Honchar in the Tour's first long time trial Saturday, and moved into second place overall after the seventh of 20 stages.

Honchar, the former world time-trial champion who rides for T-Mobile, dominated the field in the mostly flat stage - winning by more than a minute - as he became the first Ukrainian to earn the leader's yellow jersey.

Landis, the Phonak team leader, was impressed with Honchar's effort but more pleased with his own on the 32-mile ride from Saint-Gregoire to Rennes even though he lost precious seconds changing bikes because of a handlebar problem.

"I got beat fair and square," Landis said. "It looks good for the rest of the race, but there's a long way to go. We'll take it one day at a time."

After a first week of mostly flat stages that favored sprinters, the time trial was expected to produce the top contenders for the first Tour after the Lance Armstrong era.

For other Americans, Saturday was a bad day.

Time trial specialist David Zabriskie said he was distracted by fans hurling water at him; George Hincapie muttered that his ride was "not good," and Levi Leipheimer did not speak to reporters.

For veteran Bobby Julich, the outcome was even worse: He crashed out of the race altogether with a broken wrist after his wheels slid out from under him as he tried to negotiate a bend.

Landis, a 30-year-old from Lancaster, Pa., meanwhile came into the race off wins in the Tours of Georgia and California, and in the Paris-Nice stage races.

"It's more clear today than it was before that Landis is the big favorite," said Johan Bruyneel, sport director of Hincapie's Discovery Channel team.

The T-Mobile riders claimed four of the top eight spots in the stage. Among them was Australian world time-trial champion Michael Rogers, who was fourth.

Honchar's win was the second at this Tour for his team, which lost its leader Jan Ullrich - the 1997 Tour winner - and another rider to a doping scandal on the eve of the July 1 start.

"I can't imagine if Ullrich had been here, because maybe the Tour would've been over today," Bruyneel said.

Honchar's time was 1 hour, 1 minute and 43 seconds - an average pace of 31.41 mph.

"I just want to enjoy this victory and the yellow jersey," said Honchar, who did not finish the 2005 Tour and placed 64th in 2002. "I don't want to think about anything else."

Zabriskie, who won the prologue time-trial at last year's Tour over Armstrong, said he was distracted by spectators with freebies given out by race sponsors along the race route.

"It's like a circus out there," Zabriskie said.

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