Anyone who closely watched the 2006 Tour de France is sure to have an accompanying tale of excitement, depression and elation during the race. These feelings were followed quickly by the crushing news of a possible doping violation which, unfortunately, has seemed to overshadow the value of the earlier experience for many fans. But it doesn't have to be that way and I can attest to the benefit of reflecting on the race as we experienced it, cleanly - not through the dope-colored glasses many of us have chosen to wear of late. We all navigated the crazy road of Floyd’s Tour victory in our own personal fashion but the curious element of my experience during the 2006 Tour de France was the fact that it coincided with a cross-country move as well.
The infamous Stage 17 of the Tour de France, just happened to take place on the very day that Colleen and I made our California exit and honestly, it could not have happened at a better time. We had spent the prior day in a gloomy haze as we packed up the U-Haul and tried to come to grips with Floyd’s devastating collapse during Stage 16. We were staying with my Father and Grandparents and had been watching the Tour coverage intently for the better part of two and a half weeks, only to suffer the crushing blow of Stage 16 on the same day that we had to make final preparations to leave the state and people we loved.
It was not a pretty scene. After staring blankly at the television screen and witnessing Landis’ shocking collapse in virtual silence, we managed to complete the task of packing with very few words and only an occasional, “I can’t believe that just happened” remark. I literally felt sick for a couple of hours after the stage as I imagined the reaction of Floyd’s family and teammates. On one hand, it was remarkable that he had been able to fight through his hip injury and prove to be the strongest rider in the race up to that point. On the other hand, the understanding that what he had sacrificed and worked so hard for was all but lost because of one bad day…was tragic. Once again, I honestly felt sick as I tried to rationalize Periero or Kloden possibly winning the Tour.
Not that I disliked Periero or Kloden, but Floyd was the strongest rider in the race and I simply could not come to grips with a lesser rider winning the Tour. Perhaps the dominance of Indurain and Armstrong had blinded many fans to the reality of a “bad day” over the course of three weeks but we were all reminded just how fickle the human body can be when pushed to such extreme levels. The anxiety of watching Landis drift back in the group during Stage 16 and trying to convince myself that he was just bluffing was difficult to work through but when Sastre made his attack and Floyd dropped off the pace immediately, I knew something was very wrong.
There was a moment right after Landis had been left behind that I will always remember. As Jose Azevedo rode up beside him, Floyd looked quickly over at the camera to the right and put his head down. It was a small movement and could have been easily overlooked but I recall saying out loud, “That’s it. He’s done. Cracked.” It was painfully obvious that he had reached a point of total confusion and desperation, illustrated by his quick glance at the camera-bike as if to say, “What the hell is going on? I've been killing it for the entire season - what is happening?"
The next half-hour seemed like an eternity as my family and I sat slumped in our chairs, waiting for the stage to finish and the broadcast to end. We then set to work packing the truck and gathering our things for our final departure to Colorado. My Grandmother said I looked sick and I couldn’t argue with her. As a fan, I was crushed. But even more so, as a cyclist and racer, I felt terrible for Floyd mainly because I had a remote understanding of how devastating it would be to work so hard for something and come so close…only to have your goal snatched away from you so dramatically and in such a humiliatingly public forum.
I was impressed that evening as I witnessed a clearly shell-shocked Landis make no excuses for his performance and also confirm his desire to keep fighting. Whether in person or on TV, one of the most appealing things about Floyd is that you rarely get the impression that he is being anything other than brutally honest. Perhaps it is a function of his upbringing, but I have always gotten the sense that he is far more likely to speak the truth – whether it’s what you want to hear or not – than perpetuate a false image. No one ever really knew who Lance was and he was an expert at keeping it that way. But with Floyd – what you see is what you get. He sometimes comes off as slightly less polished and slick, but I think that is an endearing quality in today’s world of sports and image construction. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say all the right things and have them all be honest at the same time.
I usually sleep like a rock but I had trouble settling down the night after Stage 16. There was a pit in my stomach that had been filled only a day before by happy Tour thoughts and the comfort of my family, both of which were quickly removed by Floyd’s collapse and our eminent relocation away from the Arnold clan. Our goal was to be on the road by 8:00 the next morning so that we could make it to Utah by nightfall. I am usually pretty easy about long travel days but I couldn’t help dreading the next day’s journey and having to think about the Tour for 12 hours while behind the wheel of our 14' U-Haul.
I woke up groggy from restless sleep and rolled downstairs to get some coffee. I was met in the kitchen by my Father who excitedly said that Floyd was already off the front of Stage 17 and had a pretty good gap. We both ran into the den and began to catch up on the action. The coverage began after Floyd had attacked so it took a little while to figure out just how he got a 5+ minute gap on the field. I kept waiting for the field to start cutting the time down and figured he might stay away by a minute or two but when he crossed the line a full 6:30 ahead of Sastre in second place, I actually realized that he had basically won the Tour.
The triumphant victory punch and the image of Floyd telling Frankie that he was going to win the the race were bouncing around in my head as we scrambled to get on the road, a full hour later than we had planned. My Father and I, both devastated the day before, couldn't stop smiling at each other as we said our goodbyes. My Grandparents weren't quite as happy as Dad and I but Floyd's performance had put everyone in a good mood for what was really a sad day. It's always difficult to say goodbye to loved ones and begin a cross-country move but the emotion was positive that morning as a result of the Tour de France. And we made good time to Utah, with a big smile on my face the whole time.
Thanks Floyd - The Arnold's appreciate that your effort made a tough time a lot easier to handle.
With regard to the event, I was very impressed with the presentation by Dr. Baker and the support that Floyd is receiving from both fans and his Management/PR team of Will G. and Michael H. I have read all of the information on the case and was not surprised by many of the details presented however, the biggest impression was made by the apparent character of Floyd and his team. These guys know that they have their work cut out for them but their tenacity, professionalism and willingness to stand up to the questions and criticism did not go unnoticed. It is difficult to quantify a "vibe" but I believe that character is often displayed subtly and I got a good feeling from the whole Floyd Fairness Fund team of Floyd, Arnie, Will and Michael.Any belief of innocence or guilt aside, this case is incredibly important for basic athete's rights with regard to the anti-doping movement. The issue of “fairness” is a tricky one, but if there is any of it included in Floyd’s trial…I am certain that he will be exonerated. All preconceived biases toward guilt or innocence must be overshadowed by the scientific details of the case which reside overwhelmingly in Landis’ favor. If the scientific evidence and proof of laboratory infractions is disregarded - I do not see how any athlete can feel safe that he or she will not be a future victim.
The case begins March 14th. Hopefully justice is served.