Landis struggles in return

02/15/2009 3:08 AM

02/15/2009 3:12 AM

SACRAMENTO -- Cyclist Floyd Landis' return to top-flight racing Saturday from a bitter two-year drug suspension was less than stellar.

The Southern California pro -- banned from cycling for a positive drug test after winning the 2006 Tour de France -- finished 90th in a field of 136 during the prologue time trial of the Amgen Tour of California.

Landis, winner of the inaugural Tour of California in 2006, left without comment. But he later issued a three-sentence statement through his team expressing satisfaction with his results, and saying he's pleased with how his surgically reconstructed hip is holding up.

"Today felt great," the statement read. "I'm really happy about how good my hip feels. Testing the BHR (Birmingham Hip Resurfacing) at the highest level of competition, I couldn't ask for anything more."

Landis, 33, spent the last 2½ years on the sidelines battling unsuccessfully to clear his name after a 2006 positive drug test.

That test, showing a testosterone imbalance, came to light just days after Landis' dramatic 2006 Tour de France win. Landis later was stripped of that title.

His comeback this week in California, along with the return from retirement of his former teammate and sometime foe Lance Armstrong, has helped turn this year's race into what some say is the biggest and most star-studded race ever in the United States.

Landis' 90th place finish Saturday was in marked contrast to his results before his suspension, when he often placed at or near the top in similar time trials.

Rising out of the saddle in the home stretch on L Street, his face in a grimace, Landis finished 21 seconds slower than winner Fabian Cancellara. He was 16 seconds behind Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion who finished 10th overall.

Another top rider on a comeback from a drug suspension, Italian Ivan Basso, finished 66th, four seconds ahead of Landis.

Landis crashed Thursday, two days before the race, while training near Santa Cruz, but team officials said he suffered only bruises, and the crash did not affect his hip.

Landis is cycling with a cobalt and chrome femoral cap and cup in one hip. The surgery, called hip resurfacing, compensates for degenerative hip condition caused by a bike crash Landis suffered six years ago.

Landis' squad, Team OUCH Presented by Maxxis, is named for and partly sponsored by the Temecula medical clinic whose doctors operated on Landis.

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