Notebook > Sports

Fast turns

Sports | The Floyd Landis doping case takes a bizarre path

Issue: "Ideal Idol," June 2, 2007

If embattled cycling star Floyd Landis isn't guilty of doping during his now-legendary 2006 Tour de France victory, his reputation may be forever marred, anyway. In the midst of an arbitration hearing in May that Landis had hoped would help clear his name and allow him to retain his 2006 Tour victory, the cyclist admitted that his reputation at least is permanently damaged.

"It will be forever connected to me," Landis said of the accusations that he used synthetic testosterone. "I can't imagine how that would change." Not now. Not after a day of testimony by three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond who told of the two cyclists' bizarre relationship over much of the past year.

After two French lab tests confirmed high levels of synthetic testosterone in two Landis urine samples, LeMond phoned Landis, pleading with the Tour champion to come clean for the sake of a sport mired by doping. In sworn testimony on May 17, LeMond said Landis was unresponsive to his plea. According to LeMond, Landis said, "What good would it do? It would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people." In testimony a day later, Landis said he never implied an admission of guilt.

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LeMond said he then tried another approach, appealing to the cyclist that holding in this sort of secret would ultimately bring psychological ruin. LeMond testified he then confided in Landis, telling him he was sexually abused as a child and that he knew the power of holding onto a secret like that.

The story seemed to have little effect on Landis. And then, a night before he would testify in arbitration hearings against the cyclist in Malibu, Calif., LeMond said he received a threatening phone call from someone claiming to be his uncle: "Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I'm going to be there tomorrow," LeMond quoted the caller as saying, adding that the male voice went on to talk about the sexual abuse only known to his family, close friends, and to Landis. "I figured this was intimidation," LeMond said.

Using caller identification, LeMond traced the number back to Landis' manager, Will Geoghehan. In testimony a day later, Landis corroborated LeMond's story, adding that he was in the room with Geoghehan when he made the call. Geoghehan was later fired.

Landis' fall from grace began just one week after his monumental comeback on Stage 17 where he made up more than seven minutes on the field and set the stage for reclaiming the lead in the race's last time trial. But on July 27, the UCI, cycling's governing body, announced Landis had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone in urine provided after his Stage 17 win.

Landis' repudiation of the test was swift, if awkward. The cyclist tried a rotisserie of excuses for the positive result: getting drunk the night before, his thyroid medicine, and dehydration. By August, news reports had revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone in Landis' urine sample and the French lab doing the testing had revealed the B sample confirmed the first result.

Despite the positive tests and bizarre behavior, many seem ready to believe Landis' claim that the positive tests were either a result of a conspiracy in the French labs or that the testing procedure involved several "fundamental, gross errors," as his attorney, Howard Jacobs, said.

One such believer: Landis' mother, who said that the cyclist's strict Mennonite upbringing would preclude such cheating. "He's worked for every cent he earned," Arlene Landis said after her son's testimony. "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."

Around the Horn

BASEBALL: Perhaps Toronto Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi should double-check his definition of lying. Ricciardi said he saw nothing wrong with telling the press and fans that team closer B.J. Ryan was sidelined during spring training due to a "bad back." In reality, the high-dollar reliever had elbow problems. Problem: The club knew all along that Ryan's problem was his elbow, but misled the public in order to keep reporters from pestering Ryan. But Ricciardi denies the club lied about Ryan. "There's a lot of things we don't tell the media because the media doesn't need to know it and the fans don't need to know it," Ricciardi said. "They're not lies if we know the truth."

NBA: Few outside of San Antonio are satisfied with how the playoff series between the Spurs and Phoenix Suns ended. San Antonio won the series in six games, but won Game 5 after the NBA handed down suspensions to Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, both crucial cogs for the Suns. By league rule, the players were given automatic suspensions for Game 5 after leaving the bench area when Spurs forward Robert Horry decked former MVP Steve Nash in Game 4. Critics argued the blind application of the NBA rule shouldn't decide a series when neither Stoudemire nor Diaw actually entered the fray. But commissioner David Stern wouldn't budge: "It's being decided because two Phoenix Suns who knew about the rule forgot about it, couldn't control themselves," Stern explained on Dan Patrick's radio program. "And now, now, is it exactly fair? Probably not."

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