Friday, July 21, 2006

Never Give In, Never Give Up

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the amazing story of Floyd Landis, an American professional cyclist with the Phonak team (based in Switzerland), riding in this year's Tour de France.

To recap, he has a severely damaged hip. It is so degraded, that after this year's Tour de France, he's going to have hip replacement surgery.

The Tour de France is one of the world's most difficult sporting events. His competing at such a high level, with other (healthy) world-class atheletes is inspiring, to say the least.

But I don't want to talk about his hip again.

I want to talk about his heart, or spirit.

Two days ago, Floyd Landis, in a real show of strength, powered his way to a fourth place finish on the Tour legend mountain L'Alpe d'Huez This is a brutal mountain with 21 switchbacks running up what looks like a cliff. It has been part of many Tours de France, and the winners on those stages are remembered.

Now in the Tour de France, the big prize is to finish the three week race with the shortest accumulated time overall. That's how the winner is named.

So, the other day at the end of the most difficult stage of this year's Tour, Floyd came in fourth, no big deal, although he didn't win that day's stage, he was able to gain time on all his closest rivals and ended that day by regaining the 'yellow jersey' of the race's current overall leader.

Cool. But so what?

Here's what. The next day, another mountain stage in the Alps, Floyd Landis cracks. His body shuts down and he cannot keep up the pace. All of his competitors smelled blood and passed him up with grim glee. He did his best, but his body wouldn't give him any more.

At the end of Wednesday's stage of the race, Floyd Landis was over 8 minutes behind the new race leader and finised the day, and had plummeted to 11th place overall.

You have to understand that, at this point of the race, almost through the mountains, an 8 minute plus deficit, basically meant this year's race was over for him.

But then on Thursday, Ol' Forgotten Floyd got hissef and his crummy hip up and over several mountains to win his first-ever Tour de France stage.

And to top it all off, he kicked the boo-tays of the guys who passed him the previous day so thoroughly, that he ended up, at the end of Thursday's stage, all the way back up to third place. He's only 30 seconds behind the race leader now.

And now that they are through with mountain stages, all the rest of the stages of the race will be relatively flat. This means it's extrememly difficult to pass the leader by that much on any flat stage days.

So, with only a few days left in the overall Tour de France, how could Floyd Landis hope to win the overall race in Paris this coming weekend?

I'll tell ya.

See, Mr. Landis is fairly good in the mountains, most Tour de France champions are. Lance was a monster in the mountains.

But my close, personal friend, Floyd Landis, is also an ace at the 'time trial'.

What is a time trial?

It's where the entire day's race is done by starting each racer, two minutes or so apart, one after another and they race the clock over a specified course.

So, Mr. Landis, whom I've never met actually, CAN, POSSIBLY, gain more than thirty seconds and retake the overall lead with a spectacular performance this coming Saturday, the next to last day of the whole race, which is this year's Tour's last time trial. He still has a good chance to win the whole shebang!

Now. For Mr. Landis, to crack one day, and throw the barn doors open the next, when the sporting world was a-buzz with his spectacular implosion, is going to go down in Tour de France history.

This race has been run most years since 1903, except for wars. There are legendary examples of courage and tenacity; actually every winner so far has an amazing story.

Everyone knows Lance's story with cancer, then winning seven years in a row.

But Floyd Landis, with his quiet courage and amazing pain ignoring ability for his bad hip, has, with his performance on Thursday, set up one of the most dramatic Tour de France finishes in a lot of years. Lance usually had his wins pretty much in the bag by this time, this year's Tour is going to go down to the wire.

Hat's off to Floyd Landis. He gets my personal Courage Under Fire award.

That's why I said I look up to guys like that.

He's proof that the intangible spirit can cause the human mind and body to go above and beyond what one might normally think was possible.

Did you know that Floyd Landis was raised as a Mennonite in Pennsylvania and went against his family traditions to race bicycles? His family has come around and support him and are proud of him now; they just didn't understand a teenager's obsession with bicycle racing back then.

He's such a quiet, humble, soft-spoken, and courageous person to do what he has done.

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