On Landis, Cycling in General

Floyd Landis, based on the results from the A and B urine samples taken after his dramatic stage 17 win in the Tour de France, has been declared a cheater. He was found to have elevated testosterone levels (nearly three times above the UCI limit), and traces of synthetic testosterone were found. The first charge (the elevated amounts) were not a kiss of death, as many cyclists have successfully proven that such results are a result of natural causes. But the discovery of synthetic hormone will likely doom Landis, as it has already in the media. There will not be a quick resolution to this, as Landis has already vowed to fight the charges, so it could be until the new year before Landis’ case is heard before the international sports arbitration court (CAS).

Since the positive B test result was released Saturday morning, Landis has been sacked by his team, Phonak, which was doing little more than following the ProTour ethical code that requires a team to release a rider who fails a doping test. At the moment, the U.S. cycling association and the U.S. anti-doping association are reviewing the findings and will make a recommendation to the UCI (the international cycling union) as to whether or not Landis should be sanctioned. The typical result for a rider guilty of doping is a two year suspension.

So, is Landis guilty? Golly, it seems like it. Yes, the UCI and the French lab handling the test should not have leaked information prior to the press release on Saturday morning. That does not, however, change the results of the test. Before I heard the news of the synthetic hormone, I thought that Landis could simply have elevated testosterone levels. But that discovery makes it hard to believe him. Add to that the spin from his rather large legal team (“It was the beer…it was his body….it was the cortisone…it was thyroid meds….it was dehydration”), and you get the sense that something is amiss. I might, might, believe that a soigneur may have used a steroid cream during a post-race rub down, especially given Phonak’s rather poor doping record, but it’s up to Landis to prove that.

And what about cycling in general? This year’s Tour was supposed to be a fresh start for the race, now out from under the shadow of a certain Texan. The race was dealt a blow when favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were set home by their teams for apparent involvement in a Spanish doping operation, but this was spun in the best way possible–a sign that, yes, this would be a clean race, and the best man would win. The race was dealt another black eye, the worst in its history perhaps, as the winner might be stripped of his yellow jersey (the first time in 103 years) because of doping. While there was no car boot filled with syringes, as during the Festina scandal, cycling’s biggest event just might become it’s biggest joke. I’m not sure I’ll be very interested in the Tour next year, other than to see what sort of doping scandal swallows the race. I will, however, still enjoy the spring classics–Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold race, Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde. Does doping still occur? Probably. But the draw is not necessarily the racers, but the races themselves–the unsettled, often unfriendly northern European spring weather, the cobbles, the mud. I’m afraid not even the worst doping scandal could ruin those races, at least for me.