When one of the most controversial names in cycling’s history announces he will be returning to the world of bike racing with a new team, the world is going to listen.
And when that team will be sponsored by a legal cannabis shop, and funded with cash from a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, the story begins to sound almost unbelievable.
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But Floyd Landis, the winner of the 2006 Tour de France before he was stripped of the title for doping, has announced exactly that – the new team, the sponsor, the Armstrong cash.
The big question this all raises is ‘why?’
For Landis, there are two answers.
Why start a new team?
“To have some young guys race on a well-managed team and enjoy their life and maybe we can give them some guidance about things they might face if they go race in Europe or race in the bigger races,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“But for me, partly it’s the only thing I can really do to demonstrate that I’d like to have closure here and this wasn’t just about money for me from the beginning. That’s what I was accused of and hopefully this can put that to rest.
“Some people never let go.
“I’ve had conflicted feelings about cycling, but at the end of the day I had some of the best days of my life racing in North America and I would like to facilitate that for some kids.
“I think that will be rewarding in itself.”
Landis, now 43, was banned from the sport for two years when he tested positive for testosterone after winning the Tour, returning to race at Continental level for just two years.
He retired at the start of 2011, but not before he had released an explosive letter that gave all the sordid details of doping – both by himself and former team-mates, including Lance Armstrong.
Landis eventually filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong, accusing the disgraced seven-time Tour winner of defrauding the United States government through his doping.
After years of litigation, that case was settled earlier this year with Armstrong paying out $5million.
As the person who began the proceedings against his former team-mate, Landis was eligible for up to 25 per cent of that settlement – money that will now be put into the new team.
“Yeah that’ll be most of it,” Landis said.
“Some of it will come from our company as well. We’ll need a little bit more to have it fully funded.
“Whatever I’m allowed to keep after a few legal fees and taxes will go to the team. It’s a little over $700,000 dollars.
“In the United States you can have a decent Continental team with that amount.
“At the end of the day I think we’ll still have enough funding for a smooth operation and these kids will have a good time.”
Floyd’s of Leadville
Landis will be sponsoring the team through his legal hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) shop, Floyd’s of Leadville, which he set up in 2016.
The 43-year-old became interested in CBD through a combination of factors – firstly pain management after having a hip replacement, secondly as a way of dealing with depression after his disqualification from the Tour de France and the fallout of his doping.
Landis began to rely on opioids, both as pain relief for his hip and to escape from his depression.
Eventually he found CBD in turn came off the medication.
He said: “I got addicted to narcotics because that’s what they prescribe you. The problem is they work for pain and they also work for other kinds of pain.
“When you’re going through that kind of life – tragedy for lack of a better word – it’s really easy to start using them for other things. I ended up replacing them with marijuana at one point.
“I’m not a great salesman but it’s something I can sell because I believe in it. It’s done well and it’s fun.
“It’s a lot like cycling – the people that are involved like the subject matter.”
Landis’ role with the team
The new team will be made up of the remains of Canadian continental outfit Silber Pro Cycling, after the title sponsor decided not to renew earlier this year, with Landis’ former team-mate Gord Fraser managing the team.
Landis said: “I always admired him for his approach to cycling and I know he’s always done it in an ethical way. His real goal for the team is similar to what I hope to get out of it.”
Another obvious question for Landis is around how he sees his role with the team – will he be a hands on owner, or a silent sponsor at arm’s length?
This is a question Landis has clearly given a lot of thought: “I’m not the right guy to run the team, let’s put it that way. I think it would reflect poorly on the team for the people that still have doubts about everything. I’ll let Gord be the face of those things. I think he’s got more integrity.
“It’ll be Gord managing the team. I’m happy to show up from time to time and get to know the guys on the team and give them whatever advice I can give them.”
And how does Landis view the team in the wider world of cycling – does he hope to nurture talent for the biggest teams in the world, could the outfit develop a future Tour de France winner, or are the aims on a much smaller scale?
“If they leave the team and go on to do that I’d be quite pleased. For now we don’t have the budget to do that. Also I don’t really think that would be as rewarding for me.
“It’s trying to get a couple of guys to aspire to that chance. If it’s a path through so they end up on a bigger team then that will be rewarding as well.
“If it comes to that and Gord decides he wants to manage a more competitive organisation and grow it, then obviously we would need more sponsors
“For now it’s a developmental team and there’s quite a few decent races in the United States and those guys will have good support there.
“That’s the goal for the time being.”
Sponsors, riders and backers
While Landis is putting up the cash and the name – Floyd’s of Leadville Pro Cycling – a Continental team also needs riders, bikes and kit sponsors.
Enticing backers with a team funded by a former doper and sponsored by a cannabis shop is probably not the easiest proposition.
Landis said he decided to announce he would be backing the team before firming up the details with sponsors: “We kind of backed into it.
“Most of the time with a team you announce a sponsor and plan to get a team together because often there is continuity between a previous team that switches sponsors.
“There’s a little bit here but I didn’t want to reach out to sponsors – I know what the response is going to be.
“They’d say ‘we’re not sure what the press is going to say, we’re not sure how this is going to look, how you’re going to manage the story.’
“It’s too good a story not to write so I said ‘why don’t we just announce that I’m giving this money and there’s going to be a team?’ That way sponsors will be able to see what the press response is to it.
“And also the riders too. The riders in their early twenties don’t necessarily want to subject themselves to more questions about someone who raced 20 years ago. That’s not really fair either.”
But Landis is confident that things will all come together and he hopes to have the details confirmed by the end of November, ready to race in the spring.
Team manager Gord Fraser has a list of riders he’s interested in, some sponsors have even reached out, and the team are hoping to organise a training camp over the winter.
The darker side of cycling
And of course if there’s one thing Landis isn’t lacking, it’s experience of the darker side of cycling.
Does he feel he can offer something to young riders to help them avoid his mistakes?
“For what it’s worth, I care about trying to help a couple of young people who are about to face decisions that are going to be complex and I’d rather be able to guide them.
“At least something positive can come out of the last 12 years.
“All I can really say is this is the big picture and it’s a long life. There’s more to life than cycling and I can’t tell them what decisions to make but I can tell them what the risks are and maybe that will help them make their own decisions and I think maybe that’s the best approach.”
As a final word, Landis said: “The only message is – and I’d like to give this message to the kids on our team, because they’re going to be young kids – I never set out in the beginning thinking I was going to take some drugs and win the Tour de France or would even be faced with that decision.
“It happened over time.
“If I can relay my experience and what happened during those years, those guys can be more informed for making their own decisions and if that prevents somebody from having to live through what I lived through, at least that’s something.
“I would never have wished it on anyone and I never would have gone through it if I’d have known better, but if I can help someone else avoid it at least something positive comes out of it.”