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Phonak's Floyd Landis wins Tour de France

Landis celebrates his win

(Keystone)

Floyd Landis, a rider with Switzerland's Phonak cycling team, has won this year's Tour de France after one of the most stirring performances in the history of the race.

The result represents a major success for Phonak boss Andy Rihs, who set up the team in 2000 and in doing so has raised the profile of his hearing aid business.

Landis's victory - the third by an American - put the closing seal on one of the most absorbing contests of recent times.

His chances of winning the race had looked dead and buried when he cracked on Wednesday during the final climb to La Toussuire. He dropped from first to 11th, more than eight minutes back.

But the following day he produced a stunning stage win at Morzine that pulled him back to within 30 seconds of the yellow jersey.

Another blistering ride in Saturday's 57km time trial between Le Creusot and Montceau-les-Mines saw him regain the jersey and establish a 59-second lead over his closest rival, Spain's Oscar Pereiro.

He held onto his lead during Sunday's 152km stage from Sceaux-Antony to Paris. Pereiro maintained his second place overall, with Germany's Andreas Kloden claiming third place on the podium.

The start of the race was clouded in controversy after leading contenders Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov pulled out because of a doping scandal in Spain.

Marketing boost

Phonak's Tour de France success is the first by a Swiss sponsor. Marketing manager Heinz Niklaus told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper that the result was likely to have a huge impact on the company's profile.

"We have spent SFr5 million [$4 million] on the team this year and we reckon that the TV images of the race alone represent SFr20 million in free publicity," he said.

Niklaus pointed out that since Phonak had moved into cycling, recognition of the company among Swiss had risen from 12 per cent to over 60 per cent.

He added that Phonak, which is the world's third-biggest hearing aid manufacturer, was planning a major publicity campaign on the back of Landis's win.

The timing could not have been better for Phonak: the company plans to switch sponsorship next year from cycling to music.

Difficult times

Victory for Phonak comes after a difficult two years for the Zurich-based team during which it was hit by a series of doping scandals.

In 2004 three positive controls saw the Swiss-based International Cycling Union threaten the team with expulsion from the Pro Tour.

American rider Tyler Hamilton, who won the time trial gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was the most high-profile case. Having tested positive for blood doping, he was sacked from the team and given a two-year ban.

Spanish colleague Santiago Perez failed tests for the same method, and former road world champion Oscar Camenzind was forced to end his career after a positive EPO test.

In September 2005 the team also fired Spanish rider Santos Gonzalez after the two-time national champion returned inconsistent blood levels in international team checks.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Phonak rider Floyd Landis won the Tour de France on Sunday.
The 93rd Tour de France featured 20 stages.
The final stage between Sceaux-Antony and Paris was won by Norway's Thor Hushovd.

Final standings:
1. Floyd Landis
2. Oscar Pereiro (Spain) +59 seconds.
3. Andreas Klöden (Germany) + 1:29

end of infobox

Phonak boss Andy Rihs also owns BMC Trading, which produces top-of-the range bicycles. He plans to float the company on the Swiss stock exchange within the next five years.

Rihs, whose Phonak team uses BMC bikes, invested SFr15 million of his own money in BMC Trading, based in Granges.

According to Rihs, the company should log sales in the region of SFr25 million a year alongside average annual growth of 50%.

end of infobox


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