The Tour de France's status as the world's most physiologically demanding event is largely unquestioned. The riders cover 2,272 miles at an average speed of 25 miles per hour, roughly the equivalent of running a marathon every day for almost three weeks. In the Pyrenees and the Alps, they climb a vertical distance equal to three Mount Everests. In order to do that, they burn off up to 10,000 calories per day, elevating their metabolic rates to a level that, according to a Dutch study, is exceeded by only four species on earth. It is a remarkable feat just to compete in the Tour much less to win it.
Floyd Landis wants to win it. And, after eight stages, he is in a position to do so--most of the sport's pundits have named him as the most likely successor to his former teammate and mentor, Lance Armstrong.
But, like Armstrong, Landis will have to overcome almost impossible odds to do so. You see, Landis has a degenerative disorder that will require hip replacement surgery shortly after this year's Tour. He lives with constant pain. He walks with a noticeable limp. He can't cross his legs. He can barely get on his bike. But, once on that bike, despite the grinding of bone against bone, he is among the world's greatest athletes.
His disability, just revealed today, is likely to become the story of this Tour--and all the more so if he actually succeeds in arriving in Paris two weeks from now wearing the maillot jaune.