Friday, September 21, 2007

It’s time for Floyd Landis to pay the price

Some stories are too good to be true. Cancer survivor Lance Armstrong retired after winning seven consecutive Tour de France’s in 2005, Armstrong initially had to feel a strong sense of satisfaction when fellow American Floyd Landis claimed the 2006 Tour and the greatest prize in cycling, the Tour’s Yellow Jersey. Imagine how Lance must feel today about Floyd Landis.

Not only was Landis a fellow American, but like Armstrong although not to the same extent, had overcome seemingly insurmountable physical adversity to claim one the toughest titles in sports when it comes to endurance. The Tour de France is a 22-day, 20-stage road race that is usually run over more than 3000km that has been contested since 1903. Thursday, the winner of the 2006 Tour de France Floyd Landis was finally stripped of his title. Time for reality Floyd, time to live with the shame you’ve brought to your sport and to cycling.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced Thursday that an independent arbitration panel issued its written decision finding that Floyd Landis of Murrieta, Calif., committed a doping violation during the 2006 Tour de France. Following a nine-day evidentiary hearing and a lengthy post-hearing review of all the evidence and testimony submitted, the majority of the independent panel of arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association (AAA)/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) found that the sample provided by Landis after his Stage 17 victory was positive for exogenous testosterone.

As a result of his doping violation, Landis received a two-year suspension and forfeits his first-place finish in the 2006 Tour de France and all related prize money. The United States Anti-Doping Association who brought the case against Landis where thrilled by the decision.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition,” said USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis T. Tygart. “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 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. 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.

“I want to thank all of the dedicated USADA Board members and employees, the many experts who assisted in this case and our outside counsel, Rich Young, Matt Barnett, Dan Dunn and Jennifer Sloan of Holme Roberts & Owen LLP for their tireless commitment in pursuing the truth. Everyone on USADA’s team operates on one fundamental principle: do what is right,” continued Tygart. “Here, despite the intense pressure applied by Mr. Landis and his high-priced legal and public relations team, we knew that doing what was right required staying the course and fulfilling our duty to clean athletes. USADA brought the case against Mr. Landis because, as the independent panel confirmed today, the scientific evidence established that he had committed a doping violation.”

"According to our rules we will be stripping him of his title and awarding it to Pereiro,'' Pat McQuaid said the Tour director when hearing the news.”He has the chance whether to appeal or not. ... But there's nothing to stop us now from stripping him of his title.''

"It took that long to confirm what we already knew ... that he (Landis) cheated,'' Race Director Christian Prudhomme said in an Associated Press repport. "For us, Floyd is no longer the champion. We have said and repeated since this time that we have faith in the results from Chatenay-Malabry.''

Also relieved at the decision was the leader of that French lab, which underwent intense scrutiny during the arbitration hearing.

"We took a lot of flak,'' lab director Jacques de Ceaurriz said. "It was a little exaggerated. Things could have been handled better, without attacking the laboratory.''

Needless to say Floyd Landis and his legal team didn’t take the news well.

"This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere," stated Mr. Landis. "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 its case, shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent."

The decision of the arbitrators clearly establishes that, regardless of the evidence presented by the athlete of laboratory errors, 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.

"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. 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," said Mr. Landis' attorney Maurice Suh, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

Midway through the 2006 Tour de France (July 10, 2006) The New York Times first reported that Landis was competing in the one of the most physically punishing events in sports with a degenerative hip condition.

"If I hadn't had a bicycle-racing career, I would have had the hip replaced two years ago because I don't really want to deal with the pain," said Landis, the 30-year-old American leader of the Phonak team from Switzerland.

Describing the pain, he told The New York Times in an interview at his team hotel in Châteaubourg before the Tour's eighth stage, "It's bad, it's grinding, it's bone rubbing on bone.

"Sometimes it's a sharp pain," he continued. "When I pedal and walk, it comes and goes, but mostly it's an ache, like an arthritis pain. It aches down my leg into my knee. The morning is the best time, it doesn't hurt too much. But when I walk it hurts, when I ride it hurts. Most of the time it doesn't keep me awake, but there are nights that it does."

And Landis’ Tour de France team made it clear; they had their leaders back and support in his drive to claim Le Tour de France.

"Floyd was honest enough to speak to me about this," General Manager John Lelangue said. "It didn't change any of our plans. Since January, the objective was and remains the Tour de France. His condition was not a problem to our objective.

"We knew about the condition and that was important. I know we're talking about hip surgery, but if it's done well and planned for a good moment, I'm confident he will return to training normally and there won't be any problem next season."

What happened after the New York Times report (timeline from ESPN) speaks volumes as to what continues to drive the terrible decision athletes continue to make.

July 14: Landis takes the overall race lead for the first time without winning a stage. He relinquishes the yellow jersey two days later in a strategic move, and then retakes it three days later.

July 19: A disastrous collapse in a climbing stage in the Alps costs Landis the yellow jersey. He trails leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain by more than eight minutes, a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

July 20: Landis and his Phonak team launch a surprise attack on the first of several climbs in a brutally hot, demanding Stage 17 in the Alps. He catches the early breakaway group and rides off solo, steadily gaining on the peloton, which fails to chase until too late. Landis' fist-pumping finish in Morzine puts him back into contention, 30 seconds shy of Pereiro.

July 22: Landis overtakes Pereiro in the time trial and seals his Tour victory. The next day, he becomes the third American rider to lift the race trophy on the Champs-Élysées.

July 27: The UCI, cycling's governing body, announces that an unidentified Tour de France rider has tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Speculation centers on Landis after he abruptly withdraws from a race in the Netherlands. Phonak confirms later that day that Landis' 'A' sample tested positive for abnormal testosterone levels.

July 27: Later that day, Landis strongly denies doping in a teleconference with U.S. reporters. During the following days, his advisers suggest various explanations for his elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio, including alcohol consumption and a prescribed thyroid medication. He retains attorney Howard Jacobs, who has defended several high-profile athletes against doping charges.

July 31: An anonymous source tells The New York Times that Landis' urine sample showed the presence of synthetic testosterone.

Aug. 5: Landis' "B" sample confirms the "A" result. Phonak fires him. Tour de France officials declare they no longer consider him the race champion, although Landis can't be officially stripped of his title until his hearing process is complete.

Aug. 15: Phonak owner Andy Rihs announces he is folding the team, which was plagued by numerous doping offenses during its short existence.

September: Landis formally requests that his arbitration hearing to contest the doping charges be open to the public, a first for an accused athlete, following the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's denial of Jacobs' motion to dismiss the case. ... Landis undergoes successful hip resurfacing surgery and begins rehab.

October: Hundreds of pages of technical documents and legal correspondences related to Landis' case, including a slide presentation assembled by his coach, Dr. Arnie Baker, are posted on his Web site. The "wiki defense" spurs a wide, continuing discussion on Internet message boards and blogs. Baker gives a talk in Tucson, Ariz., citing scientific and clerical errors in the testing in the first of what will eventually become a series of "town hall meetings" aimed at influencing public opinion and building a legal defense fund.

November: An unknown hacker sends e-mails purporting to come from the French lab, alleging numerous drug testing errors and sloppy procedures. Later, hard copies of letters outlining errors specific cases are mailed to reporters and some anti-doping authorities. The letters are labeled "whistle blower documents" by the Landis team. Neither side has offered firm evidence that the letters are authentic.

December: USADA requests permission to test Landis' seven "B" or backup urine samples from the Tour de France that were not originally tested because the corresponding "A" samples were negative. Landis fights the request, which is not made public for two months.

2007

January: WADA chief Dick Pound, discussing Landis' alleged testosterone levels with a New York Times Magazine writer, comments, "You'd think he'd be violating every virgin within 100 miles." Landis blasts the remarks at his fund-raisers ... Landis hires former Los Angeles deputy mayor Maurice Suh as co-counsel ... The French Anti-Doping Agency summons Landis for its own hearing, but later agrees to put its investigation on hold until after Landis' USADA appeal is completed ... Landis, fully recovered from his hip surgery, conducts a training camp for amateur cyclists in Southern California. He tells ESPN.com he does not expect to compete in 2007.

February: Landis announces a book deal with Simon & Schuster for "Positively False," to be published in June. Acting as a spokesman for the company that manufactures the device implanted in his hip, he makes public appearances at the Tour of California. ... Landis' defense team charges that the same two technicians at the French lab were involved in testing his "A" and "B" samples, a protocol violation that resulted in the dismissal of a case against another cyclist.

April: The arbitration panel rules in a 2-1 vote that Landis' leftover "B" samples can be tested at the French lab and possibly used as evidence in the case, although they cannot be considered official positives. ... In an anonymously sourced story, the French newspaper L'Equipe subsequently reports that several of those samples show the presence of synthetic testosterone. ... Landis' defense team contends its observers were not allowed proper access to the testing and analysis.

May: Landis' team charges that computer files related to the testing may have been altered or destroyed. ... French Anti-Doping Agency chief Pierre Bordry announces that the lab has asked for an independent audit.

May 14 - 23: The arbitration hearing is held at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif. Landis' defense focuses on casting doubt on the credibility of the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory outside Paris where the test samples were processed. Landis' lawyers accuse technicians of failing to follow correct procedures and incorrect scientific interpretation of test results. USADA's lawyers bring in experts to support the test findings. The majority of evidence presented at the hearing is scientific in nature, but part of the hearing devolves into personal issues when three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond testifies that Landis had obliquely told him he was guilty in a phone conversation not long after the positive test was revealed. Landis denise the allegation, but fires business manager Will Goeghegan when it is revealed in open court that Geoghegan placed a threatening phone call to LeMond the night before LeMond was scheduled to testify.

Sept. 20 The arbitration panel releases its ruling on Landis, upholding the results of the test results that showed Landis used synthetic testosterone in his 2006 Tour de France victory. Landis is left with one avenue -- an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Last month The New York Times Magazine’s Sara Corbettt took an in-depth look at the last twelve months for Landis – “The Outcast

In the piece Landis slammed not only Armstrong but refered to three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond as “pathetic.” LeMond “needs help, honestly.” And also: “I feel bad for the guy. What happened to him is horrible, but don't use that to make up lies about me.”

LeMond testified at the Landis’ arbitration hearing, the end of bitter battle between the two cyclists. LeMond’s testimony took a bizarre twist when just before he was schedule to testify LeMond received a call from Landis’ manager who threatened to reveal the secret if LeMond showed up to testify.

Shortly after LeMond dropped those bombshells, the manager, Will Geoghegan, walked up to LeMond, apologized and admitted he made the call. Which led to “You’re fired” — the message Landis attorney Maurice Suh gave to Geoghegan while they were still standing in the hearing room.

“It was a real threat, it was real creepy, and I think it shows the extent of who it is,” LeMond said before leaving the Pepperdine law school after his spellbinding day. “I think there’s another side of Floyd that the public hasn’t seen.”

The next day, Geoghegan released a public statement apologizing.

“I have been very angry about how unfair this whole proceeding is to Floyd, a great friend and a greater champion, and stupidly tried to take out my anger on Greg,” Geoghegan said. “I acted on my own, impulsively, after a beer or two. I never thought about keeping Greg from testifying.”

Nevertheless what Floyd Landis about LeMond shared with the New York Tiems suggests there indeed serious issues -- as LeMond’s believes “I think there’s another side of Floyd that the public hasn’t seen.” What did Floyd Landis believe he could gain by referring to Greg LeMond as “pathetic?”

What led to LeMond appearing on behalf of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; was a phone call Landis and LeMond shared on August 6, 2006. LeMond was attending a charity event in Massachusetts; got a call from Landis that lasted 36 minutes. According to a report in The International Herald Tribune LeMond said he urged Landis to confess if his backup B sample also proved to be positive. The call was made days after Landis won the 2006 Tour de France, only to face the scrutiny of a positive drug test days after.

"I made it very clear that I did not judge that he did or didn't because his B sample was not positive at that time," LeMond testified.

"I said, I don't know if you did or didn't, but if you did, you can be the one to change the sport . . . salvage the sport. I would encourage you to come clean."

Landis according to The New York Times profile remained very bitter over what transpired after the call towards LeMond. Landis told The Times he was infuriated last fall when he heard that LeMond had been repeating his “completely false” version of their phone call. On an online forum widely read by serious cyclists, he posted a bilious but at that point inscrutable threat directed at LeMond, including the line, “If he ever opens his mouth again and the word Floyd comes out, I will tell you all some things that you will wish you didn't know.”

The battle between the two men played out publicly, an exercise in crisis communications that Landis lost and played a major role in the end of his professional cycling career. What next for Floyd Landis? According to an ESPN.com report Landis spent close to $2 million on his defense. He has one more appeal open to him -- an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He has a month to file an appeal.

"I have to assess whether a system that corrupt is worth subjecting myself to again," Landis told ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford. "I don't have any reason to believe that CAS is any more sincere.

"Money is a large part of it. I have to consider my family when I consider risking everything I have left. It might be like putting all my money in a slot machine."

"The only way this could have come out any differently is if one of the arbitrators was drunk and checked the wrong box," he said. "There's something going on here other than trying to figure out the science."

"This is not a rewarding thing to be a part of right now," Landis said. "I would advise athletes all over the world to stop giving urine samples until these guys clean up their act."

Before Floyd Landis decides what his next decision will be in regard to cycling (or one more futile appeal), he might be best advised to take that look inside at the man he is and attempt to figure out what is best for his and his families’ future. Clearly – if Floyd Landis is going to move forward with his life he’ll only be able to do so when he begins to forgive himself for what may or may not have taken place at the 2006 Tour de France. Floyd Landis another in a long line of athletes who are making the wrong choices for the worst possible reasons – a fleeting chance at fame.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times and ESPN.com