WASHINGTON – After more than 14 months of waging a case to clear his name while facing inscrutable uncertainty about his future, Lancaster County native Floyd Landis finally has an answer.
Needless to say it was exactly what he did not want to hear.
“This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere,” Landis said in a statement. “For the Panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent.”
A three-person arbitration panel, convened for the United States Anti-Doping Administration’s (USADA) hearing over Landis’ failed drug test following the 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France, ruled 2-1 against the American cyclist. As a result of the ruling, Landis has been issued a two-year ban from sanctioned cycling races and has been stripped of his title in the 2006 Tour de France.
“The decision of the arbitrators clearly establishes that regardless of the evidence presented by the athlete of the errors of the laboratory, the conflicted and coordinated testimony of the anti-doping community, including heads of other WADA laboratories and experts who receive millions of dollars from USADA, will prevail over the evidence presented by the athlete,” Landis’s statement continued.
Yet, despite a dramatic, come-from-behind victory in the 2006 Tour de France, Landis is the first ever champion in the 104-year history of the race to lose his title.
Spanish rider Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in the 2006 Tour, will be declared the winner.
“Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “This decision confirms for the overwhelming majority of American athletes who compete ethically that USADA is committed to protecting their right to participate on a drug-free playing field.
This is pending more legal wrangling, of course. Landis can appeal the USADA’s ruling to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which Landis is “currently weighing his future legal alternatives in pursuing his case.” Landis has a month to make his appeal.
If he chooses to take his case to the CAS, Landis will again be fighting the positive drug following the remarkable 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France in which he had an illegal testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. Reports are that Landis's T/E ratio was 11-to-1, which is significantly higher than the 4-to-1 allowed by rule.
Plus, during the 14 months of fighting the charges from the USADA, Landis says he has spent approximately $2 million (including approximately $1 million of his own money) in his defense. Following the presentation of his case at the public arbitration hearing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. in May, Landis continued to travel across the United States in attempt to clear his name with a presentation of his fight against the allegations as well as meet-and-greet sessions in support of his book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France.
Additionally, Landis published all of the information about his defense and the case on his Web site, floydfairnessfund.org.
It was during his travels across the country that Landis spoke about his defense, which centered on the contention that the testing, procedures and protocol of the French-government owned laboratory, the National Laboratory for Doping Detection (LNDD), that performed the drug test during the Tour were flawed.
In fact, Landis and his legal team pointed out over 200 procedural and protocol errors by the French lab, including some that were acknowledged in the USADA arbitration hearing in May. What’s more, the LNDD’s methods and procedures are viewed as so sloppy that the International Tennis Federation opted to have its drugs tests for French Open performed in Montreal rather than at lab mere miles away from where the tournament is held.
In the ruling, the majority of arbitrators did find areas of concern about LNDD, specifically in testing protocol.
“The Panel finds that the practices of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes of an adverse analytical finding,” the decision said. “If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal of a positive finding by the lab.”
But alas, in the end the arbitrators were not swayed by the evidence.
Instead, the three-man panel, which convicted Landis on a 2-1 unanimous decision, sided with the USADA’s argument that did little to challenge the cyclist’s assertions. In fact, USADA attorneys never directly asked Landis if he used synthetic testosterone, as positive tests after Stage 17 at the 2006 Tour show he did. The case of anti-doping agency, which is funded in part from U.S. taxpayer dollars, centered more on Landis’s character rather than the science involved in proving whether or not an athlete had used performance-enhancing drugs.
“The majority Panel's decision is a disappointment, but particularly so because it failed to address the joint impact of the many errors that the AFLD laboratory committed in rendering this false positive,” Landis’s attorney, Maurice Suh, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said. “To take each of these errors singly, is to ignore the total falsity of the result. The majority panel has disregarded the testimony of Mr. Landis' experts, who are preeminent in their respective fields, without analyzing the impact of the errors on the final result. This is a miscarriage of justice.”
In its 84-page decision, the majority found the initial drug test to measure Landis' testosterone levels was not done according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules. However, the majority agreed that the carbon-isotope ratio analysis (IRMS), performed after a positive T/E test is recorded, was accurate.
But some, like Suh, have claimed that the hearing was a matter of the “circus not the science.”
In that regard, the incomplete testimony of former American cyclist Greg LeMond and the acknowledged prank phone call from Landis associate Will Geoghegan, took center stage.
“This case is really just another sad example of the crisis of character which plagues some of today’s athletes and undermines the honest achievements of all of those athletes who compete with integrity,” Tygart said. “Hopefully, some of the good that comes from this type of case is that other athletes who might be tempted to cheat will recognize that there is no honor in doping to win.”
The hearing will forever be remembered for its soap operatic nature of the aborted LeMond testimony in which the three-time Tour de France champion showed up and revealed that he had confided to Landis that he had been sexually abused as a child. Then, the night before his scheduled testimony, LeMond received a phone call from Geoghegan, posing as an “uncle,” in which he threatened to disclose the former rider’s secret if he showed up to the hearing.
Not only did LeMond show up, but he also claimed Landis had admitted he had doped. However, as written in the decision, the majority wrote that LeMond’s appearance was meaningless.
"The panel concludes that the respondent's comment to Mr. LeMond did not amount to an admission of guilt or doping," the majority wrote.
In the end, the question still remains whether or not Landis doped to win the Tour de France
Moreover, did Landis expose the anti-doping system’s testing procedures and how athletes are prosecuted? Is the system broken?
USADA will say no, and obviously, Landis’s camp will go the other way.
But the fact is the Landis case has changed the way anti-doping agencies and doping cases are viewed.
“That wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and honestly, I didn’t realize the jeopardy that athletes are in because it never crossed my mind. I had no problem giving a urine sample because I did it all the time and I assumed that the people testing it were legitimate and out to do the right thing. It never crossed my mind that it could be the way it is,” Landis explained about his trendsetting case in an interview last June. “And it’s hard for people to believe when I say it really is that bad. They think, ‘Yeah, he’s guilty. That’s why he’s trying to accuse them.’ But, even a guilty person deserves to have the evidence against him provided to him without having to spend $1 million in a year.”
It will be even more money if there is an appeal.
More on the Landis case:Panel Rules Against Landis in Doping Case; Tour de France Title StrippedFloyd Landis on Tour to Clear His NameUSADA release (PDF)
Arbitration Ruling: USA Cycling Athlete Floyd Landis Receives Two-Year Suspension for Doping Violation (AAA Decision) September 2007 - Majority decision, 84 pages (PDF)
AAA Dissenting decision - 26 pages (PDF)
All of the other really good stuff is at TBV