Mennonite mania grips cycling fans

landisI spent last week with my brother, a huge Tour de France fan. He kept me updated on Floyd Landis, his favorite cyclist, who ended up winning the race a few days ago.

So Landis was winning heading into the 16th stage. But then he did very poorly in the Alps, losing his lead. During the 17th stage, he pulled way, way, way ahead of the peloton and almost regained the lead. Or something. I’m going based on my brother’s excited updates and my poor memory. Anyway, he ended up winning.

Well, where’s the religion angle, you ask? It’s everywhere. Every single story of Landis mentions his upbringing as a Mennonite. Here’s The New York Times yesterday:

Landis said he believed that aspects of his upbringing, in a strict Mennonite family in eastern Pennsylvania, with no television and many expectations about what constituted proper behavior, contributed to his rise to the top of his sport.

“I don’t pretend to know a lot about what’s going on in life most of the time,” he said. “But I had good parents who taught me that hard work and patience were some of the most important things in getting what you wanted. It took me a long time in my life to learn patience. But that and persistence, I think, is the lesson that even I learned from this race.”

Or check out this AP story:

FARMERSVILLE, Pa. — As Floyd Landis crossed the Tour de France finish line yesterday, his devout Mennonite parents were riding their own bicycles home from church.

Paul and Arlene Landis were so confident their son would win the cycling’s greatest race they didn’t have to choose between going to church and watching it on TV at a neighbour’s house.

“I’m glad we didn’t have to make that choice. Church is very important to us,” Arlene Landis said.

A reader sent along a few more substantive articles, if you’re interested. No matter what the article, it’s interesting to see what an endless source of fascination Landis’ Mennonite ties are to the media.

Photo via Guano on Flickr.

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  • Kevin Stilley

    Tim Rice has posted on his blog an interesting article about a group of Mennonite young people who are biking across the U.S.

    The link to his site is:

  • Trierr

    I am impressed that this story made it on to GetReligion! As I read several of these stories, I have many questions. Why do some of his parents’ community of faith not support his “lifestyle”? What is wrong with racing bikes from that church’s perspective? Also, I thought that Mennonite was much more “liberal” than Amish and indeed I have known other Mennonites who used computers, drove cars and were much more integrated into contemporary culture. What is distinct about this particular branch? I would love to see some of this explored.

  • Tim Rice

    Trierr, I don’t know precisely why some of parent’s community of faith don’t support his “lifestyle”. But I can make some guesses.

    First, among Mennonites there are some Mennonites who are just about as conservative as the Amish. In Southeastern Pennsylvania where I live, there are some Mennonites who do not allow the reading of newspapers, radios, and of course television also. Some of them even require that their cars be entirely black even the bumpers. They are in the minority; but they do exist. In as much as I understand it, their reasons for all this has a lot to do with not getting caught up in the carnal things of the world.

    For the Mennonite community that Floyd Landis came from, the fact that some of the races he pariticipates in requires him to miss church would be sufficient in and of itself to label Floyd Landis’ chosen way of life as sinful.

    I am Mennonite, too; but one who is much more integrated into contemporary culture. But I, too, would have difficulty with a vocation or calling that regularly required me to miss church with the exception of certain occupations such as those in the health care field. Even there, if it required me to work every Sunday, I don’t think my spiritual values would allow me to do that.

  • Diane Fitzsimmons

    Another good story that gets at the issue of Mr. Landis’ religion is this one from The Washington Post:

    My reading of this — assuming it is accurate — is that the story of the differences Mr. Landis has with his parents is the old one of a young man butting heads with his parents and walking his own way, rather than him being the one rejected. The story notes: “Landis long ago reconciled with his parents. In 2004 they took their first trip overseas to witness the peloton racing up a peak in the Pyrenees. There the route was clotted with screaming, liquored-up, flag-draped Basques, who had poured in from Spain by the busload. Amid this rowdiness, clustered together in their high-necked frocks and crisp white bonnets, sat Landis’s mother, Arlene, and three of his sisters, holding up a hand-painted banner. On it was the modest assertion: “We Support Floyd Landis.” “

  • Stephen A.

    The TV report I saw yesterday showed his mother wearing traditional Menonnite clothing (hat, dress) and having to go to a neighbor’s house to watch her son on TV.

    This tells me a couple of things. 1) they are not isolated in their own Menonnite-only community (though shots of their hometown seemed to show some Amish or Menonnite influences in clothing and transportation) and 2) they are not utterly opposed to watching TV, but do not own one themselves.

    As for the media’s fascination, I suppose they’re assuming he will use his notoriety to call Bush a mass murderer or condemn the war in Iraq. I suspect (and hope) they will be disappointed.

  • MT

    I’m a long-time cycling fan and I’ve been following Landis’ career since he began a top road racer. Within the cycling world he is highly respected for his strength – both physical and mental – and his laid back approach to life. He is the anti-Lance. There will be no Landis foundations, private jets, rock star friends, ESPY Award banquets, etc. He and his roomate in Spain (where he lives during the season) remind one of a couple of fraternity guys cracking Beavis and Butthead-like jokes. He has a very dry sense of humor.

    Also, it’s spelled “peloton.”

  • Frank D.

    Mennonites, historically and in the contemporary world, are pacifist. It would be uncharacteristic for a Mennonite to judge George W. Bush and call him a mass murderer, but most Mennonites would, and do, deplore the war in Iraq, quietly at the conservative end of the spectrum, more publicly at the liberal end. Most Mennonites oppose all war. It has little to do with politics for most and even for those who do engage, the peace testimony is the foundation.

    Mennonites today range from conservative to liberal in matters of theology, lifestyle, social outlook and involvement in the society around them.

    Conservative Mennonites, like the old order Amish, look at each worldly innovation — as a conference, a church district, a family — and try to decide how it will impact individuals, families and the religious community. The restult is a series of rules governing the use of these devices — radio, television, computers, etc. — so that they will do the least damage to the fabric of the community. This doesn’t mean these devices are considered evil, only that their unbridled use might generate evil.

    I must say my old order Amish and conservative Mennonite neighbors are among the best informed people I know despite the limits they place on information and other technology.

    I expect the Landis family feared bicycle racing would separate Floyd from his family, his church and his community — as it has done. This does not mean they don’t love and support him.

  • Mollie

    Thanks, MT! I fixed it.

  • bmj

    It is worth noting, however, that Landis does share Armstrong’s killer instinct. From a pre-TdF article in Outside Magazine:

    “You want more of that, ________?” he asked loudly. “Because if you do, we’ve got plenty.”

  • MT

    No doubt about the fact he shares Lance’s killer instinct. Most pro bike racers do – it’s an unimaginably hard sport.

    I compete on the local level and even the 40 year old guys I race with are little Napoleons!

  • bmj
  • Mollie

    CRAZY. Maybe it’s because he’s an Anabaptist! Just kidding.

  • bmj

    It’s worth noting that A results with stuff like testosterone levels can be incorrect, as they rely on a correct reading of the baseline amount of testosterone in the body. The test of his B sample should clear things up.

  • MT

    What bmj said. It is being reported that this is a “positive.” It is not until the B sample is tested and found positive. Let’s wait before we string him up…

  • TK

    Why do the papers keep mentioning it? Here’s one guess: his mother’s photo with her Mennonite dress and cap. Her dress is so different from what is the norm today that it begs to be mentioned. That’s my guess.

  • MT

    Landis is in the news because he won the largest annual sporting event in the world! Only the World Cup and the Olympics are bigger and they are held once every four years. It’s huge news and it has nothing to do with his family being Mennonite – that’s just an interesting twist to the story.

  • Stephen A.

    MT, I suggest that if there was no religious angle to this story, it wouldn’t be being discussed here at all.

  • MT

    I’m responding to TK question: “Why do the papers keep mentioning it?” My point is it’s huge news: a Tour winner has never tested positive, it’s one of the largest sporting events in the world, Landis made a mythic come-back in the race, etc. It’s not because he comes from a Mennonite family.