Landis Retakes Tour de France Lead; Victory in Sight

American Floyd Landis regains the lead of the Tour de France, virtually assuring an overall Tour victory on Sunday. Landis grabbed the lead with a third-place performance in Saturday's time-trial stage. Scott Simon talks to Andrew Hood of Velo News at the finish line.

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SCOTT SIMON, host

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Coming up a Turkish writer faces prison for allegedly insulting Turkishness. But first, Floyd Landis now seems likely to win this years Tour de France. But Landis had a 30 second deficit to make up today against race leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain. He made up that gap and more. Joining us from the finish line in Monceau-les-Mine is Andrew Hood, correspondent for VeloNews. Mr. Hood, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. ANDREW HOOD (VeloNews): You're welcome. It's quite a scene down here.

SIMON: Well, tell us about that and how Floyd Landis did it.

Mr. HOOD: Well, Floyd just stepped off of the podium after receiving the yellow jersey, the (foreign word) of the race leader. The race ends tomorrow with eight laps in the Champs-Elysees, so borrowing disaster Landis is going to become the third American to win the Tour.

SIMON: Boy, how did he race today? Great, obviously, but the way you people who know something about this see it.

Mr. HOOD: It was a calculated performance. He said that he wasn't really going for the stage victory. He finished third today behind Sergei Gonchar. He was only interested in erasing the deficit of Oscar Pereiro. He didn't want to risk a crash, any sort of problems that could have complicated the day. So, it was just enough to win. He rolls into Paris with a 59 second margin, and he's just ecstatic right now.

SIMON: Does it turn out, with the advantage of a few days hindsight, that the best thing to happen Floyd Landis was to be so flat, no pun intended, one day, that he felt compelled to turn in that superhuman effort on Thursday, and then put himself in a position to win now.

Mr. HOOD: Yeah, in terms of the story it really makes it a Hollywood ending, because throughout the first two weeks of the tour he was being kind of cautious, almost conservative, afraid to make a big effort like Lance Armstrong would do. Just kind of unsure what to do really do in his position as the race leader. Then when he blew up on the La Toussuire climb, he had to lay everything down and make a huge gamble, make a massive solo attack, and he pulled it off. People called it the ride of the century.

SIMON: Mmm. So he gets asked a lot of being a Mennonite and about having a bum hip?

Mr. HOOD: Those are questions that come up just about every day. He always says that his parents are great. He enjoyed his upbringing, but it just wasn't for him. And then in terms of his hip, he doesn't really know exactly when he's set to have his hip replaced. It causes him so pain, he said, that he has to have it done within the next few months.

SIMON: Mmm. Mr. Hood, explain something to us. When we say that's its going to essentially be a victory lap, or series of them along the Champs-Elysees, is there anything short of him running into a truck that could prevent Floyd Landis from winning tomorrow?

Mr. HOOD: That's about what it would take. It would have to take a catastrophic crash where he would have to break a leg and he couldn't ride his bike. Typically when the race comes down to the last day, in the Champs-Elysees there's a tradition of not attacking the leader - especially with 59 seconds, it's almost impossible to make them make that up by a flat stage. It is also a stage for the sprinters, it's a prestigious stage for the faster riders to win on the Champs-Elysees.

So, it's almost in the bag, but never say never until this Tour is over.

SIMON: Mmm, and in one word, is this one of the great victories of all time, given how it came about?

Mr. HOOD: I think it has to be. I mean I'm strong win with dominance. I think Landis won with panache.

SIMON: Thanks very much, nice talking to you.

Mr. HOOD: Okay, thanks.

SIMON: Andrew Hood, correspondent for VeloNews, speaking with us from the Tour de France.

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