US cyclist Floyd Landis survived a 120-mile stage to keep the Paris-Nice bike race leader's jersey on Thursday, while Belgium's Tom Boonen won his third stage of the week-long tour.
Members of the peloton shouldn't be surprised to see Landis retain the lead: he's known as the World's Fastest Mennonite.
Landis grew up in a part of Pennsylvania where he and many neighbors belonged to the Mennonite religious sect. Not as traditional as the Amish, who live in the same area and eschew automobiles, electricity and other modern conveniences, the pacifist Mennonites drive cars that aren't flashy and they wear plain clothes.
Growing up, Landis couldn't watch TV or wear short pants; Landis needed permission from his church's pastor to wear bike shorts. But he and friends could ride bicycles.
Joe Lindsey wrote an excellent article about the up-and-coming Landis in Bicycling magazine in 2002. This excerpt reprinted by a Swiss Mennonite association describes Landis riding his bike as a teen-ager in February and speaks volumes about his character:
His dilapidated, $300 Marin Muirwoods mountain bike is fluorescent orange-and-yellow. He wears five layers of clothing: cheap thermal underwear, sweatshirts and pants, topped by tattered red K-Mart sweatpants and a nondescript gray jacket. A safety-orange hunter’s balaclava squirms under an oversized Bell helmet with a mesh cover. His feet are insulated with socks, plastic Baggies and another pair of socks, topped by oversized white $5 tennis shoes covered by more Baggies.
Landis left home when he was 20, moved to southern California, and became an accomplished mountain bike racer. He later turned to professional road racing, where he landed on US Postal Service team in 2002.
Landis is a member of a club that includes Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, and Roberto Heras — cyclists who worked for Lance Armstrong on the US Postal Team and left.
Booknoise.net's review of Lance Armstrong's War says Landis's toughness made him invaluable to Armstrong, although the two have parted ways since Landis left the team in 2004. Says Booknoise:
Relations between the former friends turned acrimonious at this year’s Tour de Georgia when Armstrong pointed vehemently to Landis as he crossed the line ahead of him, his message clear: Traitor.
“There are no unwritten rules about a celebration at the finish line,” Landis told VeloNews afterward. “But it’s up to fans to decide on a person’s character based on their reaction [to] beating someone.”
“In everyday life it’s hard to be friends with your boss. I don’t believe that Lance has ever had that kind of friendship with any of his team-mates, even with George Hincapie, whom he has known since he was 17. Friendship can’t exist when you give orders and direct others. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. It’s by acting in this way that Lance has been able to win the Tour so often.”
Apparently Armstrong didn't care for those sentiments and told Landis so during the race. Then Armstrong, Hincapie and Yaroslav Popovych pushed a 3-man breakaway that moved Landis down the overall classification (he finished the Tour in 9th last year).
There's appears to be no animosities holding Landis back this year. Winning the time trial in last month's Tour of California, he carried the leader's golden jersey all the way to the finish in Redondo Beach.
He could be in line to do the same this week at Paris-Nice. Grabbing the yellow and white jersey on a Category 1 on Wednesday, he comfortably sat in the peloton into Thursday's finish in Rasteau, 9 seconds ahead of Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea. Other challengers are more than 1 minute behind.
Friday's 124-mile grueling stage to Digne Les Bains includes two Category 1 climbs.