I’m no friend of Floyd Landis. I wanted to get that statement up front so that no one thinks that this post is motivated by friendship – or conversely, by any lack thereof. I’m not Floyd’s enemy, either. We were nothing but fellow competitors, each following our own individual paths through what is arguably one of the most difficult sports in the world.
I did not know Floyd particularly well. We saw each other at the races – mostly the NORBA National Off-Road Championship Series. I was actually nearing the tail end of my career, a culmination of more than twenty years in the saddle, the last 8 or so as a professional road cyclist – a good portion of which was spent toiling on the roads of Europe just another journeyman professional doing a mostly anonymous days work for a less anonymous team leader. Floyd, on the other hand, was really just getting started – at the time he hadn’t even begun to focus on road racing. As a mountain bike racer Floyd was a decent but by no means great rider. You’d never have guessed what his potential was had you seen him race a mountain bike – at least not that early in his career.
We’d chatted from time to time and shared the same degree of mutual respect that all people that have shared certain experiences – particularly those that come with lots of suffering – seem to have for one another. We did share some mutual friends though and from them as well as from the brief discussions we did have I got the distinct impression that Floyd was a good guy, a fair minded person and certainly a determined competitor.
Put plainly I don’t have any axes to grind about Floyd one way or another. Certainly I would not put my own credibility at risk defending him nor would I jeopardize it by reviling him just to prove a point.
With that said I have decided that I need to address with some specificity the issue of Floyd’s purported doping during this past year’s Tour de France and particularly Floyd’s dominating performance on the 17th stage. If you’re reading this I’m assuming that you know that a few days following Floyd’s victory in the overall general classification of the Tour de France it was announced that Floyd had tested positive for synthetic testosterone following his epic 17th stage victory.
In short order, Floyd was sacked by his team, vilified by the press, skewered by many of his competitors and most importantly treated like a convicted criminal by the UCI and by WADA – the Union Cycliste International and the World Anti-Doping Association respectively. In the United States even the most obvious of criminals have certain rights accorded them. Among these, being considered innocent of the crime until proven guilty is arguably the most important.
It seems to me that a similar standard should exist in sport and further that all athletes in all sports should be treated in the same manner when a test for controlled substances yields an anomalous result.
In Floyd’s case, however, his treatment was pretty much exactly the opposite of this reasonable practice. Even before independent analysis of the results, the testing procedures or the second sample were conducted Floyd was pretty much tried, convicted and branded “cheater”. In fact from the looks of it, major news organizations were actually informed of Floyd’s first sample coming back positive even before Floyd himself was informed.
For the record that is NOT how it is supposed to be done. In fact, if following (or failing to follow) the rules is such a sacrosanct ideology for the UCI and WADA then it is the ultimate in hypocrisy that Floyd’s doping test results were leaked to the press at all until after the second sample had been tested – something that could have been weeks or even months down the road.
The truth is that positive or not, Floyd wasn’t treated in a fashion that could have even remotely been described as fair. To get an idea of just how badly stacked the odds were, consider just how many different factions were invested in proving Floyd guilty: first there was the French in general, still smarting after seven years of Lance taking home the coveted gold fleece in their national tour – and all without a single positive dope test to sully his achievement, then there was the lab itself that was smarting from a resounding indictment the prior winter when an investigation by the UCI found so many violations of the approved practices for conducting doping controls that the report suggested that the license of the lab be pulled for non-compliance, add to this the press that were having a field day with the soft spoken Landis – who himself was suddenly thrown to the lions – by his own team no less – who immediately fired him which no doubt added immeasurably to the air of guilt that was condensing around the confused champion.
Floyd’s own reaction did little to dispel the public perception that he’d cheated. His explanation for the positive left more than a little to be desired and the fact that he offered a number of different plausible (though in some cases extremely unlikely) reasons for failing the control – many of which were made in statements on national television – helped many people make up their minds that the guy had juiced his way to a victory.
It didn’t help matters that another former Tour de France champion, Greg LeMond was weighing in on the issue and not to Floyd’s benefit. No one bothered to check if there were old vials of LeMond’s urine from tours gone past lying around just waiting to be examined by some enterprising laboratory. Lucky for Greg that this is true – and that unlike Lance and Floyd – there was no testing for the really serious drugs like rEPO back when Greg and his preternaturally blue eyes stood atop the podium in Paris.
Just what relevance the former champion, LeMond, had to Floyd’s situation is a mystery to me. Greg had already proven himself to be the most miserable sort of former champion. A man that begrudged the successes of the next generation – a selfish, insecure, narrow-minded asshole that instead of looking upon the accomplishments of those that followed in his footsteps with pride knowing that these younger athletes had confirmed the validity of his legacy, instead felt that by some evil twist of fate they somehow diminished his victories. The truth of course, is that the only thing that has diminished Greg’s victories is Greg himself. Merckx, Hinault, Indurain, Anqueteil – great champions all – made greater by their respect for the performance of those that came later and their love of the sport. When I was a young rider, Greg was one of my heroes. Today I want to spit when I say his name. He’s a hypocrite, a liar, and to be honest an object of pity and scorn – he should have just ridden his bike and let his legs do the talking – his mouth has done him no favors. But I digress…
It wasn’t just Greg LeMond that had it in for Floyd. The other big gun – and in this realm a much more dangerous foe – was Dick Pound, the head of WADA. To say Dick had it in for cyclists is like saying the Pope is Catholic. It seemed to incense him that Armstrong had never been nailed to the proverbial cross for doping and it seemed he’d be damned if another cyclist – and particularly an American one – would skate by on his watch.
In some respects it appeared that Floyd was being victimized by his former team captain’s near decade of unbroken tour dominance. It almost felt like the collective frustration that the majority of the sporting world had felt during Lance’s unshakable grasp upon the tour was being vented upon this upstart American with the injured hip who had no right to finish – let alone win – the Tour de France… (continued tomorrow)