Floyd Landis – Controversial Tour Character!
Tour de France Memory: As the 2019 Tour de France is about to start in Brussels, we thought it would be a good time to look at one of the most controversial (probably the second most controversial) Tour characters – Floyd Landis. Ed Hood spoke one of his training buddies, Eric Hensel, to try to get into the Floydster’s head.
Floyd and the Tour – Still together!
Mennonite kid, discovers the bike, trains in secret, rises to the very top, rides with Postal, goes it alone, wins the 2006 Tour de France but gets declassed, denies he was kitted, even writes a book to protest his innocence, asks Lance for his gig back but is rebuffed, ultimately ‘fesses up’ and is then instrumental in bringing down Lance. It can only be Floyd Landis.
Wow! Then what?
He goes into LEGAL marijuana production and… shows up at the 2016 Tour de France finish.
So what’s this crazy cat really like?
We caught up with Eric Hensel, who trained with ‘The Floydster’ a few years back for a wee insight into the enigma that is Floyd Landis.
PEZ: Thank you for agreeing to speak to us, Eric – did you/do you, race?
Eric Hensel: I raced a bit in the early 70’s but it was all criteriums, and I’m a climber. I took 30 years off then did a bit of racing in 2008/2009, but found in my age-group there were the guys doing “hormone replacement therapy” and those who didn’t. It also hurts more when you crash.
PEZ: How did you get to know Floyd? – where and when was this?
It was in 2008, I was asked to try a regular training ride on Wednesdays in San Diego, that had been started years earlier By Dr. Arnie Baker.
(Extracts from Wiki on Baker, Landis’s mentor: Arnie Baker born August 6, 1953 in Montreal, Canada) is a bicycle coach, racer, and writer. He has coached road and mountain bike racers to several Olympic Games, more than 120 U.S. National Championships and 40 U.S. records. Baker has a Category 1 U.S. Cycling Federation racing license. He has held eight U.S. 40-K time trial records, has won six national championships, and has won more than 200 races. Baker has authored or co-authored 16 books and more than 1,000 articles on bicycling and bicycling-related subjects.)
I had a rough few weeks coping with the difficulty of this ride, but enjoyed the people, and at the beginning of the third ride someone said: “Damn it – he’s got the tandem…”
I said “what?”
And the guy next to me say’s: “it’s gonna be fast, Floyd’s here” I look back and Arnie’s piloting a carbon-framed tandem with Floyd Landis stoking; I couldn’t believe it and didn’t know enough about Baker, to expect it. This was in 2008 – Floyd joined us a couple dozen times between 2008-2010.
PEZ: What phase/state was his career in?
This was post hip-reconstruction, and pre-reinstatement – you could say I knew him in the middle of his banishment.
PEZ: What physical shape was he in, what sort of training did you do?
He was in great shape, and only got better. The only reason I say I trained with him (was able to hang with him) is because his work with Baker, on Wednesdays, was either a rest-day or he was doing strength work by driving the tandem while Baker mostly steered. Sometimes they both went for it, and it was amazing to watch – especially on uphill switchbacks. This Wednesday ride was very different from anything else I’ve done, with quite a few pros showing up. It was no-drop, but with at least a dozen intervals and sprint-points and plenty of time between, to talk.
PEZ: Was he still with his wife at that time?
I’m not certain, though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t.
PEZ: What did you chat about other than cycling?
Seldom about cycling – except about equipment. He was a complete tech-nerd and loved talking about anything technology related (phones, cars, computers etc.) Philosophical chats too. He was sarcastic, had a devastating wit, and at the time favoured dry, gallows humour. I would say 80% of the time it was “Make Floyd laugh” You have to understand, this was in the middle of his punishment, and no one wanted to bring any of that up, unless he did. Most of that stuff was his efforts at dealing with financial problems – which were large.
PEZ: Did he talk much about his Mennonite roots?
I never heard him… didn’t ask either. I’m Atheist, myself. I think some of it came out in the way he talked about certain things.
Need to lose weight? “Stop eating for a couple days!”
He didn’t suffer people that wouldn’t suffer on the bike.
PEZ: Had he written the ‘denial book’ at the time?
Sure but I don’t remember it coming up.
PEZ: Did he speak much about the events of the 2006 Tour?
Only obliquely, in a very tongue-in-cheek way…
PEZ: Was he bitter/sad/resigned/broken?
He never came across as any of those on a ride. He was very focused on returning to racing, and vented a lot in a very sarcastic, resigned, funny way.
PEZ: What do you think hurt him most about his fall?
The hypocrisy of the entire thing. I will say that the Floyd you’ve seen interviewed is very close to the real thing, and he’s been pretty clear about how he feels – and felt. He doesn’t really have a public/private face.
PEZ: Did he talk much about Lance? Ochowicz?
Not around me.
PEZ: He has an affinity with David Zabriskie – why?
They are a couple of knuckleheads? I never met Zabriskie, but he seems to be one of those “let me do my job, but my way” odd combinations of team-player and loner-oddball. Cycling attracts interesting personalities…
PEZ: There’s little doubt that Landis was somewhat of a ‘fall guy’ is there?
None whatsoever – right place wrong time. I will say I believe he was no donkey, and had a lot more inherent ability than Lance. That’s my opinion, with input from many who knew him a lot longer than me. It’s hard to say about Lance, since it appears he started using substances as far back as high-school – a bit like Leipheimer.
PEZ: You’ve been quoted as saying; “he’s a great, complex guy” – why do you say that?
He was always a great presence on the rides, frequently raising the fun-level – though some of that might be because we were fans. He always had at least one thing to say that made me go “hmmm” and think a bit, and philosophy is one of my hobbies.
PEZ: What were his thoughts about his future at the time?
He was pretty focussed on getting back to the Big Show – I think he’d already been through the wringer, and was on a one-day-at-a-time existence, as you would imagine. Dealing with banks and credit-card companies was a fairly common life-style comment. I wasn’t close enough to know what he thought about when he was alone.
PEZ: Are you still in touch – how is he?
The last time I saw him was in 2010, when he was racing for Bahati. I’m not in touch, no. I’m not a friend, as such.
# Perhaps we’re no further forward in understanding the man but one thing is for sure, there ain’t too many Floyd Landis’s to the pound . . . #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.