American Overcomes Long Odds to Win Tour de France

American Floyd Landis wins the Tour de France, becoming the third American to take the trophy. It was his first win of the race, and it cam on the heels of American Lance Armstrong's seven-year domination of the event. Renee Montagne talks to sports journalist James Raia about Landis' improbable victory.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The winner of the Tour de France will be going to Washington.

After American Floyd Landis' stunning victory, President Bush called to offer congratulations and invite him to the White House.

Floyd Landis is the third American to win the Tour. When he became champion last year, Lance Armstrong had won it seven years in a row, and Greg LeMond won it three times.

Joining us from out on the streets of Paris is sports journalist James Raia, who was following the race. Hello.

Mr. JAMES RAIA (Sports Journalist): Hey, good morning.

MONTAGNE: How are the Europeans, and particularly the French, reacting to this eighth straight win by an American?

Mr. RAIA: Well, they would much rather have a French winner, of course, but I think that the French, overall, they just appreciate champions. And whether it's a French rider or an American or a German or an Italian, if, what they say here in France is champion champion, which is, you know, champion champion. So if they look at your face and they see that you're a champion and not just a winner, they do respect that very much.

But the French have not had a winner of the Tour de France since 1985, so what they really want is a French winner, and they just don't have any right now.

MONTAGNE: Now, Floyd Landis had dropped to eleventh place after this, the tortuous alpine stage in the race. He made a remarkable, and some are saying historical, comeback. How did he do it?

Mr. RAIA: Well, it was very interesting, because yes, you're right. He lost in the 16th stage. He - his food intake was off and he just had what, you know, is generally described as a bad day. And so he's a pretty mild, easy-going guy, and I guess he went back to his hotel room and talked to his team and his team director, and, he, the next day he said he woke up and he was angry. It's pretty rare for Floyd Landis to be angry, because he's just a very soft-spoken, easy-going, genuine guy.

So he came back the next day and he went off the front, as the cycling terminology goes, and he, you know, and he won the next day by, I think it was six minutes now, and got back into the race. And so everybody said that the -some of the journalists and the people who have observed this sport for 30, 40 years, said yes, it was one of the most remarkable one-day comebacks by any cyclist.

MONTAGNE: Floyd Landis does have a degenerative hip condition, and he will be having hip replacement surgery this fall. Is that good or bad for his chances of competing in the Tour again?

Mr. RAIA: Well, I think that for the normal person who is not a, you know, great cycling champion, I think that they could probably go back and walk and maybe run again. But they're saying that for a person to go back and try to win the Tour de France, you know, his chances are, you know, probably slim that he will ever be at the same level. But then again, considering what he did the last three weeks, I'm not certainly going to put it past him. I don't think anybody would.

But it is, you know, a very, very serious surgery, and he said that he will come - his words were that he would come back to the Tour de France, although it may take him two years to come back. Depending on which doctor you talk to, some doctors here have said that it'll be very, very difficult for him to ever walk without a limp again, and other doctors say no, you know, cycling is a sport that doesn't have a lot of impact on the body in terms of jarring or pounding, and so that he will be able to come back.

But of course I guess we just have to wait and see, you know, how it works for him.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. RAIA: Thank you. My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Sports journalist James Raia speaking to us from Paris.

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