Floyd Landis, the only man ever to top the Tour de France podium in Paris and later be stripped of his title, has left the OUCH-Maxxis team and is eyeing a return to top-flight European racing.
A statement from the team’s management company, Momentum Sports Group (MSG) said that the cyclist and OUCH-Maxxis had parted company by mutual consent, adding that "For the 2010 season, Landis expressed to MSG that he desires to ride the longer, tougher stage races offered in Europe and internationally that better suit his strengths.”
It continued: "Accordingly, given that MSG will be focusing its 2010 racing season primarily in the United States, MSG and Landis mutually agreed that it would be best for both parties to part ways at this time and allow Landis to seek a position with a team that could better accommodate his desires."
Landis returned to competition at the Tour of California this year after his ban which resulted from a urine sample taken after Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France showing an abnormal testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio.
On that stage, Landis claimed a stunning 120-kilometre breakaway victory to put himself right back in contention for the overall victory. The rider, then with Phonak, had been duelling with Spain’s Oscar Pereiro for the yellow jersey but suffered a disaster on the previous day's Stage 16 when he dropped from 1st to 11th in the overall standings.
Two days later, Landis was back in yellow following the penultimate day’s individual time trial, making Sunday's parade into Paris a formality for the rider who had been hailed as “the next Lance Armstrong,” set to become the Tour’s first winner after his former USPS team mate’s seven-year dominance of the event.
If it all seemed too good to be true – particularly the Stage 17 victory, which Landis took by more than five minutes – that’s because it was. It was subsequently revealed that his T/E ratio was 11:1, compared to the maximum permissible ratio of 4:1.
The cyclist, raised in a strict Mennonite community and suffering from an arthritic hip due to a crash in 2003, continued to unsuccessfully protest his innocence through a series of often heated court hearings which continued through to December 2008, resulting in him being officially stripped of the yellow jersey and having his name erased from the record of the 2006 Tour.
Quite where Landis intends to race next year is, for now, a mystery, although he has been linked with US-based Rock Racing. Teams operating on a clean rider platform are out of the question, and in any case, besides the fact that most outfits have now finalised their rosters for 2010, Landis would be a highly risky and controversial signing for anyone prepared to take him on.
Wherever he does end up, one thing is virtually certain for Landis – a three-week gap in his diary in July each year while the attention of the cycling world turns to the Tour de France.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.