MALIBU, Calif. - Though he’s convinced his reputation is ruined, Floyd Landis still had to give it his best shot.
He took to the witness stand at his arbitration hearing Saturday for his much-awaited testimony and found 50 different ways to say he didn’t cheat.
“It’s a matter of who I am,” last year’s Tour de France champion testified. “It wouldn’t serve any purpose for me to cheat and win the Tour, because I wouldn’t be proud of it. That wasn’t the goal to begin with.”
Wearing that familiar yellow tie, a gray suit and blue shirt, Landis spoke clearly and kept on point during a 75-minute dissection of his career, which was thrown wildly off track when he tested positive after Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour.
It was a well-calibrated presentation, and he hopes it will establish his innocence and keep his victory intact. But he conceded that maybe the real damage already has been done — a reputation spoiled for good.
“It will be forever connected to me,” he said. “I can’t imagine how that would change.”
Landis outlined the strategy he used for his riveting comeback in Stage 17 — a plan he said had nothing to do with the synthetic testosterone he’s accused of using, but one that was hatched over dinner and whiskey the night before.
“It helps with the tactical plan,” Landis said, drawing laughs.
Speaking under oath, he said the only banned substance he has taken during his career has been cortisone — medicine he used to treat his injured hip, which had been approved for his use by cycling authorities.
He also spoke about allegations that Greg LeMond made two days earlier, acknowledging he was in the room Wednesday night when his former manager, Will Geoghegan, made the call to LeMond threatening to reveal the three-time Tour champion’s secret that he had been sexually abused as a child.
Although Landis corroborated most of what LeMond testified to Thursday during his blockbuster day on the stand, there was one key difference.
“I told him that I didn’t do it,” Landis said, refuting LeMond’s assertion of the opposite. “I told him it wouldn’t make any sense for me to admit to something I didn’t do. But if I did admit it and I didn’t do it, what would the positive outcome of it be?”
Landis spoke in a conversational, matter-of-fact tone, never raising his voice or breaking down. He talked about his sometimes-strained relationship with seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong and the reason he left Armstrong’s team — so he would have a chance to be “the man.”
Landis’ parents and wife, Amber, watched from behind the defense table — his mom smiling ever so slightly and Amber fiddling with her watch.
Afterward, his mother, Arlene Landis, said her son’s claims of innocence were exactly what she expected to hear. His parents are devout Mennonites, and Landis talked about his religious upbringing at the start of the testimony.
“He’s worked for every cent he earned,” Arlene Landis said. “When you’re a Christian, it’s not a weight. God doesn’t put us through situations like this unless he has something he can teach us. I have no idea what they will decide. I just know in my heart.”
The hearing room was rapt, finally getting a chance to hear Landis speak about the allegations he has denied since news of his positive “A” sample was leaked 10 months ago.
At the end, attorney Howard Jacobs asked him why the three arbitrators who will decide his fate — whether he becomes the first Tour winner stripped of the title for a doping offense — should believe him.
“They should believe me because people are defined by their principles and how they make their decisions,” Landis said. “To me, bicycle racing was rewarding for the pure fact that I was proud of myself when I put the work into it. As long as I know I earned what I got, that was satisfactory.”
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May 18: NBC's Peter Alexander reports on the high-profile hearing between champion cyclists Floyd Landis and Greg LeMond.