'Anti-hero' Landis pulls out amid furore

NO SOUTHERN VISIT: Cycling drug cheat Floyd Landis has been forced to withdraw from the Tour of Southland, starting on Sunday.
NO SOUTHERN VISIT: Cycling drug cheat Floyd Landis has been forced to withdraw from the Tour of Southland, starting on Sunday.

A New Zealand cycling enthusiast central to bringing Floyd Landis to the Tour of Southland says the embattled United States rider remains under huge pressure as the Lance Armstrong saga continues.

Landis yesterday emailed Auckland lawyers Wayne Hudson and Richard McIlwraith to regretfully withdraw from this year's Southland tour, after previously coming here in 2009 and 2010.

Landis cited ongoing legal battles and the intense scrutiny he was under as the reasons he could not make a third trip to New Zealand.

The Tour of Southland could lose another professional rider with four-times winner Hayden Roulston struggling with a hand injury.

He was hoping to decide today on whether he would turn out for the Calder Stewart team in the tour, which starts with the team time trial prologue on Sunday.

Hudson and McIlwraith have developed a close association with Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France crown when he later tested positive for testosterone.

Landis initially denied any wrong-doing while serving a two-year ban and then attempted to resurrect his career by coming to Southland in 2009.

By the time he returned in 2010, where he finished fourth overall, he had admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs, turning whistle-blower on former team-mates including Lance Armstrong, with whom he rode during three of the Texan's Tour de France victories.

Hudson said Landis was "victimised and ostracised" when he became one of the first riders to point the finger at Armstrong. "Now he's gone from being a hero to a villain to a kind of anti-hero, people realise that he's made it happen," Hudson said of the Armstrong controversy.

"We still stuck by him and it's quite an interesting situation to be in where we knew him before he admitted to it and we knew him after he'd admitted to it. He was still the same guy. For all the things that he did wrong he had a very strong moral core and he knew when he was breaching it and he knew that it was wrong, but he didn't know how he was going to make it up to everybody."

Hudson and McIlwraith first entertained the thought of targeting a famous cyclist for the Hudson Gavin Martin brand after losing a rider to another team.

They drew up a list of names which included George Hincapie, but excluded many of them because their fee would have been too high.

At the time Landis was returning from suspension and the pair decided to contact him, finally reaching his agent Scott Thompson after weeks of sending emails.

Landis' fee turned out to be more than reasonable, but it was clear he was treating his trip like a paid holiday of the South Island.

He showed up, finishing 17th overall in a race won by Heath Blackgrove, and went away determined to do better, but the shadow of cycling's drug culture still hung over him.

"He came down and said ‘this race is harder than I thought it was, I better train harder if I'm going to do it again'. He was still keen to resurrect his career in 2010 but by May he'd then been denied the opportunity to race in the Tour of California and that's when you saw him release for the first time the information on his own doping to USADA. From then the unravelling occurred through May, June and July and he was ostracised by everybody."

Hudson said Landis' testimony about the level of drug-taking in cycling had never wavered and he did not deserve the sort of antipathy which he was still receiving from inside and outside the sport, including this week when UCI president Pat McQuaid said whistle-blowers like Landis and Tyler Hamilton were "scumbags", not heroes.

The Southland Times