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U.S. Cyclist Reclaims Lead in Tour de France


It is a tough bicycle ride today, in the Tour de France. The fifteenth stage, up an infamous mountain, L'Alpe d'Huez. The cyclists climbed almost 3,700 feet of switchback turns to the very top, and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg won the stage. But the American, Floyd Landis, has regained the yellow jersey as the overall leader. Phil Liggit is covering every kilometer of the tour for OLN television, welcome Mr. Liggit.

PHIL LIGGIT: Lovely to speak to you.


CHADWICK: How was that last nine miles up that hill?

LIGGIT: I'll tell you, I thought - I've seen most of the finishes up this hill. It started, they started coming to L'Alpe d'Huez in 1952. I wasn't around for that one but ever since 1976, I've seen them. And I've seen one of the best battles, today. There were so many riders, believed that they could win this year's Tour de France, in Paris on Sunday, that they threw every ounce of energy they had left. A massive crowd, probably approaching three hundred thousand people watched them climb up to the finish. Frank Schleck is a Luxembourger; no Luxembourger has ever won here. He was the winner, but the battle really was just behind him, which was for the leaders yellow jersey. Floyd Landis crossed the line fourth place, with all of his rivals behind him, so he now leads the race by just ten seconds. So it's far from won, today.

CHADWICK: How has the heat there, in France, been affecting the racing?

LIGGIT: Well it's been very hot. We've only had, probably two showers of rain - fairly heavy, but lasted no more than five or six minutes - since the race started, which is now over two weeks ago. But you know these riders race in this heat. Especially the Italians and the Spanish riders. So it doesn't really have an adverse affect. We haven't lost many riders at all, in reality. We've still got around about 154 riders left in, from the 176 that took the start so we're on the par with any other year. I really don't think it's affected them very much at all.

CHADWICK: Floyd Landis, an American, now racing for Phonak, the Swiss team. It was revealed this past weekend, that he had a hip operation that he kept secret, and now he has degenerating bone on bone, in that hip. He can barely walk, but clearly he can ride. Did you know he had this hip trouble?


LIGGIT: Well we knew he had a problem. He hasn't had the operation yet. Because what it was, he, in 2003 he crashed when he was training in California in January, and he broke the head off the femur. He had - obviously he was off for a few months, they put it right. But as often happens with this type of injury, they trap the blood vessels and the bone starts to die, over the period of years. And this is happening, and he's in great pain at night, especially when he lies in bed. Ironically, when he sits on the saddle of a bicycle, he takes the weight off the leg and he doesn't feel the pain, and that's certainly obvious by the way he's riding his bike in the tour. But the surgeon now advised him, he has no alternative, he's got to have the hip replaced. So this might be his last ride of the year when he stops the Tour de France next Sunday. But he's very confident and so is everybody around him. He will ride at this level again, next year, despite the hip being replaced.

CHADWICK: How different would this race be, at this stage, fifteen, if it were not for the pre-race blood doping expulsions of several riders, including some of the very best?

LIGGIT: Well it's true, we've lost, I suppose, four favorites. In fairness to Floyd Landis he as a favorite before this tour started, and the other riders were included. But there's no doubt we would have seen a very different race, tactically, because that these riders would have watched each other. And once they dropped out the tour, these guys left in - oh there was about half a dozen really felt they could now win this Tour de France - and what we're seeing is a war of attrition. Cyclists every day attack each other, believing they are the best, and it's making for a very exciting Tour de France.

CHADWICK: The Tour de France ends Sunday in Paris. Phil Liggit of OLN is covering the entire race. Thank you sir.

LIGGIT: It's a lovely time to speak to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.