Nine days after missing an Amgen Tour of California pre-race press conference due to a training crash, OUCH-Maxxis rider Floyd Landis met with a packed pressroom inside the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
After comments by stage winner Rinaldo Nocentini and the day’s most courageous rider Christian Vande Velde, Landis filed into the cavernous pressroom. His appearance represented the first real chance most journalists in the room had to speak with the former AToC winner, since access to him before and after each stage this week has been very limited.
Landis’ time with the press, however, began with one major restriction. Before turning the floor over to questions, the moderator at the podium asked those in attendance to “restrict your questions to the present, this race, and to the future.”
Landis began by fielding questions about his return to racing and his local knowledge of Sunday’s climb up Palomar Mountain, the highest point of this year’s Amgen Tour of California, which is just 25 miles from his home in Temecula.
And had there been any doubt about his unwillingness to talk about the 2006 doping scandal that stripped him of a Tour de France victory and left him suspended from the sport for two years, Landis quickly put those to rest.
Asked simply whether the case is still a topic of interest to some, despite every aspect of it having been so publicly dissected, Landis said he wasn’t even interested answering “questions about questions about the past,” and then ended his first and, thus far only, exchange with reporters.
What follows is a transcript of Landis’ brief meeting with reporters on Saturday evening:
Question: You won the inaugural Amgen Tour of California and are back after two years away. What are your impressions of this year’s race?
Floyd Landis: This year the race certainly, like every year, has been growing. I am always impressed with the dedication of the fans. Those first few days in the rain it was hard enough to ride, let alone stand and cheer in rain, but it was good for morale. It’s been a very difficult race. Compared to any race of this length in Europe, I can’t think of any that would be harder. There’s a lot of momentum going.”
Q: How is your overall health this week? How do you feel about your performance here? Do you have an illness?
FL: Well, it’s important to remember I haven’t raced in two-and-a-half years. It’s a difficult race to start racing again. We’re doing the best we can. I’m a little bit disappointed with how it’s gone. I had one incident; I crashed and landed on my hip. I’m happy I didn’t have any problems with it. Riding in the rain and snow, sometimes you don’t feel too well afterwards. I think I feel about the same as everybody else right now.
Q: What do you hope to get out of your comeback?
FL: I missed racing. I spent a large part of my life doing it, and the last few years I have been gone. It feels good to be back. I don’t know about any long-term goals, at this point in a stage race, it’s all about short-term goals. Right now I just want to find a place to lie down.
Q: Do you have ambitions to race in Europe again, or will you only stick to a domestic schedule? And do you know if there are races in Europe in which you won’t be allowed to enter?
FL: I’m not entirely sure how the [UCI] team classification system works. We are a continental team, so I’m not sure what options we would have. I have no plans at the moment to race abroad. We will go race in Mexico next month, but for the most part, most races we will do are here. I have no aversion to racing in Europe. It’s hard to say. I haven’t spent any time thinking about it or looking into it. I’m not sure if there are any races that I would be allowed to enter or not. Still, after two years, I am trying to figure out how all this works. I’m still not clear on a lot of things.
Q: You know Mount Palomar as well as any rider in this race. How do you think it’s going to affect Sunday’s stage?
FL: I have never raced up Palomar before. My experience there is usually having a burrito at the bottom. Tomorrow I am not going to be able to do that. Once I am done with my burrito I usually climb for an hour. Tomorrow I imagine it will go faster. There’s another climb past Lake Wohlford Road that will be tough. It’s not real long, but after a weeklong stage race there are a lot of guys who are tired. If things split up could it be difficult before the bottom of Palomar.
The first half of the climb is about five percent grade, and the second half is about eight percent. It’s as hard a climb as you can find anywhere. At this point in the race it will make it interesting. Astana is a strong team and they seem determined to control. They’ve done a good job. There are some guys who are close in GC that could take some risks. I’m not sure if they will take any changes, but I would
Q: You’ve been gone for two years. How does it feel to be cheered by the crowd like you are a rock star?
FL: I’ve missed a lot about racing. I never did it for the attention. I did it for the challenge and the experiences and all the places I got to see. But it is touching to come out and have so many people be cheering for us all, not just me. To see that in the U.S. and so close to home is very satisfying.
Moderator: Okay, three more questions.
Q: Tomorrow will we see another Floyd Landis ride from stage 17 [of the 2006 Tour de France]?
FL: Tomorrow is a good stage for that sort of thing. I hope you get to see a ride like that, whether it’s from me or someone else. Some of those guys who are close in GC… if I were in their shoes I would try to get some time back. Levi’s team is strong, but it’s going to be hard to control on a stage that hilly. After Palomar there are some difficult sections. Whether or not I will be there, it’s hard to say, but I do know the streets very well
Q: What can you tell us about the day’s final climb, up Cole Grade Road?
FL: When I thought about how the race would play out, I didn’t think it would be a factor, but the way the race played out the first few days there wasn’t anybody that got to race easy and save energy. Those first rainy days the peloton split and everyone spent the same amount of energy. There are some in the bunch who are less motivated than others, that have less to gain, so when we come to a climb like that, it could do some damage to the peloton. I don’t know how many will be together at the bottom of Cole Grade.
At the bottom it is a 10-12 minute climb, and there’s a ways to finish. It’s rolling, not flat, if there is a decisive place in the race, that could be it. If somebody wants to get time, that would be it. We’ll have to wait and see how the peloton looks at the bottom of the climb, and if it goes the traditional way.
VeloNews: We were told you don’t want to talk about the past, and we all understand why, but do people still ask you about the past? Are journalists still hounding you about it? Is there really anything left to talk about?
FL: I don’t know if I want to answer questions about questions about the past.
With that being the final question, Landis then stands, thanks the media and leaves the room.