Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Landis' wonder hip has doctors stumped

AP , CHICAGO

Elite cyclist Floyd Landis has Tour de France fans and even many physicians stumped.

How can a guy whose hip is falling apart hop on a bike, let alone be a contender in this most grueling challenge?

His degenerating condition has crumbled the ball of his hip joint so that it no longer fits neatly into the socket, his doctor says. The irregular-shaped bone has ground down surrounding cartilage, and arthritis has set in.

For mere mortals, the pain would be excruciating and they'd be begging for a hip replacement.

Landis is planning to get a new hip after the three-week Tour ends next Sunday. But first things first. He is considered a favorite to win this year's race, and was in fifth place overall heading into yesterday's 11th stage.

"He must be tough as nails," said Charles Bush-Joseph, the Chicago White Sox baseball team's physician. Other doctors say athletic conditioning and the adrenaline surge from racing help explain how he's doing it.

The 30-year-old Landis broke his right hip and severed its blood supply in a fall on gravel during a steep downhill training ride near his California home three years ago.

"The front wheel slid out, so all of my weight went straight down onto my right hip," Landis said at a news conference in Bordeaux on Monday's off-day in the Tour.

"I guess I knew at the time that something was really wrong because it was probably the most painful thing that I have ever experienced, but I didn't want to believe that it was as bad as it was," he said.

Three subsequent operations failed to fix the problem, and without blood to nourish the joint, his hip bone slowly has been dying. Doctors call it avascular necrosis.

Pain tolerance separates elite athletes from the rest of us, said David Prince, a sports injury specialist at New York's Montefiore Medical Center.

"If you or I were to undergo what he's experiencing, we would go nuts and probably have the surgery that night," Prince said.

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