Arbitrators find cyclist Landis guilty of doping
Sept. 20: Arbitrators uphold the results of a test that showed the 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis used synthetic testosterone to fuel his victory. MSNBC's Alex Witt reports.
“I am innocent,” Landis insisted one more time in a statement, “and we proved I am innocent.”
Facing a two-year ban and the option to mount one last, even more expensive appeal, Landis’ journey only can get harder from here. But then, it was an improbable one to begin with. Improbable enough, anyway, that the first time you heard it, you wanted to believe it. I wish I believed it still.
The most willful of Paul and Arlene Landis’ six children rebelled against a strict upbringing by jumping on a bike after church and the day’s chores were done and riding into the hills alone late at night. And Floyd was fast from the get-go. He wore sweat clothes instead of a racing outfit back then, to abide by the community’s sense of modesty. But by the time Landis was 18 and already an accomplished mountain bike racer, he left the Mennonite fold and Pennsylvania Dutch country in the dust. Both felt too confining.
“I wanted to get away and find out what there was in life, on my own,” he recalled just ahead of his 2006 Tour win. “And the bicycle was a way of doing that.”
On that fateful Sunday, even as Landis stretched the yellow jersey across slim shoulders with the Arc de Triomphe in the background, a church service was taking place half a world away. Afterward, Rev. David Sensenig, who was presiding at the church that Landis’ family attended, told an Associated Press reporter that individual achievements counted for only so much in the faith. And a sign on the lawn outside the Landis home nearby reinforced his point. “To God be the glory,” it read.
But next to that one was another sign stubbornly celebrating Landis’ win. “Floyd’s the man,” it read, and that small show of exuberance spoke volumes. It was grudging admiration that for all the things about Landis that had changed, the virtues he learned as a child — humility, hard work, conviction — were still intact.
Now, I’m not so sure.
The case against him was tilted from the outset, loaded up with selective leaks and — as Landis proved during a lengthy, sometimes lurid public appeal — abetted by shoddy record keeping at the same French lab whose shoddy science led to doping allegations lodged against seven-time tour winner Lance Armstrong a few years ago.
Unlike Armstrong, though, Landis never got the benefit of the doubt. He took too long to get his act together, sputtering at the outset and then offering a string of alibis in confusing, piecemeal fashion. And more to the point, unlike Armstrong, Landis tested positive; in his case for synthetic testosterone.
His defenders, especially inside cycling, noted there was precious little power boost to be gained. Accusers pointed to a drug-saturated sport and the fact that Landis followed one of the most shocking collapses ever witnessed on the Tour with perhaps the greatest comeback ride ever. Damningly, his positive test came after that.
The science to detect synthetic testosterone was convincing enough for the two arbitrators who voted against the third. People in the know have been saying the same thing since the test results were released. That’s one reason why USADA is unbeaten, 35-and-0, in front of an arbitration panel.
The strongest evidence to the contrary was always those virtues Landis so comfortably displayed, the same ones that anyone who spent time around him never failed to mention, or praise. Everyone from Armstrong, for whom Landis worked as a lieutenant on three winning U.S. Postal teams, to team managers, trainers and reporters who cover cycling regularly, will passionately vouch for him until this day. But some people said the same when Tyler Hamilton got caught red-handed.
Cycling is a strange sport. It’s either the dirtiest one out there, or it has the toughest, most comprehensive testing program there is and catches all the cheaters going unpunished by all the others. Or both.
The riders — the smart ones, anyway — never share secrets with one another. Maybe every one of them believes everyone else is juiced and has been going back to the race’s origin. That’s why there’s a saying in cycling that’s been handed down for generations: “The strongest always wins.”
Left to the imagination is how one becomes the strongest.
It’s a stretch in Landis’ case to believe doping. Then again, his too-good-to-be-true story wouldn’t be the first one that turned out to be just that.
2010 Tour de France