First Tour Sans Lance Is Up for Grabs

Melissa Block talks with former Tour de France rider Frankie Andreu about the 2006 Tour de France, and American contender Floyd Landis, who is competing while enduring shooting pains in his hips. Andreu is a commentator for Outdoor Life Network, the U.S. broadcaster of the tour.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The yellow jersey at the Tour de France belongs to American Floyd Landis today. He took the overall lead after the 11th stage of the race, the first hard mountain stage. And the remarkable thing, the thing that defies belief, is that he's taken the lead while he's in excruciating pain.

His right hip joint has degenerated after a bike accident three years ago and he plans to have hip replacement surgery soon after the race. Former racer Frankie Andreu was providing commentary on the tour for the Outdoor Life Network. He joins us from the top of the mountain in Pla de Beret in northern Spain where today's stage ended. And, Frankie, tell us about today's race. What a finish.

Mr. FRANKIE ANDREU (Cycling Commentator, Outdoor Life Network): It was an incredible finish. There was-today was the second mountain day in the Pyrenees and there was a lot to be determined today, because yesterday wasn't very difficult and it didn't separate the leaders at all. But today completely changed that and at the end we had an elite group of four or five riders - with Floyd Landis, Dennis Menchov from Team Rabobank, Levi Leipheimer, another American from Gerolsteiner and Cadel Evans with another Australian rider - and these guys just attacked each other and went as hard as they could, and in the end Floyd Landis crossed the finish line and because of the time bonus he received he finished eight seconds in the yellow jersey ahead of the Frenchman who had the jersey for today. So now he's going to have this on his back going into tomorrow and we're going to have to see and wait to find out how long he can keep that yellow jersey.

BLOCK: Well it is an amazing thing. Let's talk a bit about this. The pain as he's described it is unbelievable what he is riding through. How does he do it?

Mr. ANDREU: That's a very good question. I mean, three years ago he had a bad crash where he broke his hip and I guess the blood flow going to that area has been a little bit limited and so his hip is starting to deteriorate. And he's been riding in pain, but he says sometimes it bothers him and at other times it doesn't bother him. So I'm hoping that during the tour, it's during those times that it does not bother him.

BLOCK: Frankie, what are you looking forward to in the days to come in the tour?

Mr. ANDREU: I look to see how Floyd is going to handle wearing the yellow jersey, and more importantly how his team is going to be able to handle the mountains when we get to the Alps. Floyd is very strong, but his team is not as strong in the mountains and they need that help, they need those riders in the group to be able to chase down the attacks that happen, to be able to pace each other so that the leader can stay as fresh as possible at the end of the race. And if you don't have that, Floyd might have to do a lot of chasing or do some extra effort and maybe not be as fresh as possible at the end of the race and eventually lose the jersey. And I hope that doesn't happen.

BLOCK: Well, who else are good contenders here?

Mr. ANDREU: Some of the other contenders that are up there is Dennis Menchov, there's an Australian, Cadel Evans, there's a German, Andreas Kloden. But right now Floyd looks the most - the strongest.

BLOCK: You know, the names that you're mentioning these are not the big names that we've heard from, from tours of the years past. Of course, Lance Armstrong has retired, the seven time winner. Yan Ullrich, Ivan Bosso, had to drop out because their names were linked to a doping scandal even though they haven't tested positive themselves. So it's wide open I guess at this point.

Mr. ANDREU: It is wide open. And you're right, some of the top names aren't back here. So in that aspect in a way it's been very exciting, because every day has been very unpredictable. Every day different tactics and strategy has been playing out and it's been fun to watch.

BLOCK: I do want to ask you one question about Lance Armstrong. You were subpoenaed in a case, and in a deposition you said that you heard Lance Armstrong acknowledge that he had used drugs, testosterone, human growth hormone and EPO. This was back in 1996. Armstrong has been all over the media in the past couple of weeks denying that that ever took place. Do you still stand by what you said?

Mr. ANDREU: I 100 percent stand by what I said in my testimony. I mean, ten years ago, Lance was in the hospital room fighting for his life and when he had cancer and he made that statement. And I was subpoenaed under a court of law and I went in and spoke truthfully.

BLOCK: Frank Andreu, good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Mr. ANDREU: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLOCK: Frankie Andreu was providing commentary on the Tour de France for the Outdoor Life Network. He spoke with us from the top of the mountain in Pla de Beret in northern Spain, where today's 11th stage ended. And again, Floyd Landis, an American, has taken the yellow jersey.

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