How 'The Big Lebowski' inspired Floyd Landis's unlikely comeback
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’’
-- The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, in the movie, “The Big Lebowski’’
Floyd Landis won the 2006 Tour de France after one of the most amazing stage comebacks ever – he overcame a nearly eight-minute deficit on Stage 17 -- only to have his title stripped away just days after the Tour ended because he tested positive for PEDs. He was devastated for years, dealing with constant negative media attention along with pain from a hip replacement and deep depression.
“In most ways, I’m like everybody. You grow up and the world is not this big dream anymore,’’ he says. “There were some years where I was just trying to get through life.’’
One small thing that helped him deal with the grief was repeatedly watching “The Big Lebowski,’’ the comedy written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. “It helped. It is so good,’’ Landis says. “I watched it enough that I memorized the whole thing. I might have overdone it on ‘The Big Lebowski’ but it helped.’’
Jeff Dowd, the basis for the movie’s main character, the Dude, agrees with Landis on the film’s impact, telling me during a 2009 interview, “It’s pretty hard to watch ‘Lebowski’ without feeling better than when you went in.’’
“The Big Lebowski,’’ which opened 20 years ago, tells the story of the Dude, played by Bridges, an unemployed recreational league bowler in Los Angeles, whom thieves mistake for a wealthy multi-millionaire. The Dude deals with their theft of his rug, a fake kidnapping, ransom demand and getting ready for a bowling league tournament. He also has some interesting friends, such as Vietnam vet and bowler Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman.
The movie did not fare well at first but eventually became a cult favorite, with many cities holding Lebowski Fests where people party and watch the movie often while dressed as the characters.
Oh, and one more thing about the movie. The Dude also smokes marijuana. Which brings us to back to Landis and his happier post-cycling career. Because he now runs a company called “Floyd’s of Leadville’’ that sells cannabis.
The Dude: “Mind if I do a J?’’
After dealing with his pain and depression for a while on whiskey, Vicodin and opioids, Landis says he started taking cannabis. He says it made a significant improvement in his life and he takes hemp oil most mornings to help him feel better. As he writes on the Floyd’s of Leadville website: “I was pain free and for the first time in a long time. I started to feel happy.’’
This led him to opening Floyd’s of Leadville in Colorado in June of 2016.
Unlike the Dude, Landis and his partners, including Scott Thomson, point out that the company emphasis is not about getting high by smoking marijuana but rather providing the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Thomson says they focus on a “healthy lifestyle’’ with cannabidiol or CBD, which is found in cannabis. The company sells the product in gels and creams in some stores and also on-line at FloydsofLeadville.com.
“You get really good sleep from this. And you don’t get high,’’ Landis says. “It just calms your thoughts. It’s very subtle. But it has real pain relieving effects. I think people would be more likely to use that than marijuana because they are afraid of getting high.’’
University of Washington neuroscience professor Joshua Kaplan says there is not yet complete scientific research on this but that studies so far have shown that taking cannabis indeed can be good for various things, including reducing pain and inflammation.
“One of the other benefits you hear being touted a lot among football players, hockey players and boxers is using CBD, because it reduces their inflammation,’’ he says. “And we know inflammation causes pain.’’
Landis says the company is doing well and that running it has also made him happier by helping take his mind off that cycling fiasco that ruined his life for a while.
Walter Sobchak: “Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.
After getting busted at the 2006 Tour, Landis denied he doped while he cycled, even writing a book, “Positively False,’’ in which he claimed he never took performance enhancers. After some time, however, he finally admitted that yes, he had doped. Which brought additional attention.
“If you look up doping in sports, I’m still the picture on the Wikipedia page,’’ Landis says. “I’m the guy. I’m the evil guy! I’m the guy. I won the doping contest, I guess.’’ He laughs at this last bit, then adds: “I paid the price for what I did. …
“It’s been a strange life. Put it that way.’’
The Stranger: Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.
While coming clean, Landis revealed to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2010 that Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France a record seven times, also doped. Landis had ridden on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team with Armstrong from 2002-04. Armstrong denied he ever doped for many years but finally admitted to it on “Oprah’’ after having had his seven Tour titles taken away in 2012.
Armstrong now is being sued by the U.S. government with the accusation he defrauded it by accepting millions in sponsorship money from the USPS while doping during those Tours. Armstrong faces a fine as high $100 million. As the whistle blower, Landis could receive up to 25 percent of the judgement if Armstrong loses.
Landis says he is unsure what exactly he would get, if anything. He also says he isn’t feeling that great about the case because of the negativity it will bring up again. “On the one hand I’m dreading it a little but I’ve been through it so many times that I don’t stay awake at night,’’ he says.
The case could come up in May, though a settlement is possible. In the meantime, Landis says he will concentrate on life outside the bike doping stories, including running Floyd’s of Leadville and hanging with his friends, plus his partner Alexandra and their daughter, Margaret, who bring him joy. He also bikes several days a week, though not nearly as often or as long distances as when he was a pro.
Despite all he went through, he says life is better these days and he is happier. Just like the Dude was after he got through everything at the end of “The Big Lebowski.’’
The Stranger: Take it easy, Dude.
The Dude: Oh, yeah!
The Stranger: I know that you will.
The Dude: “Yeah, well. The Dude abides.’’