It’s not the science, it’s the circus

Most nights my ride home the ballpark can be a pain. Firstly there is the Schuylkill, which quite possibly could be the worst stretch of paved road in the world. On top of the Surekill, there is some construction linking the Expressway near Valley Forge to the Turnpike that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans look like a Sunday drive through the country.

Finally, there’s the distance, which comes to approximately three hours round trip. Sometimes the drive can be quite taxing, but I guess it’s my fault for living out in the middle of nowhere. That said, it’s much nicer here than in any of the neighborhoods that I surely would be priced out of – it’s a little slow to adapt to modernity or new ideas out here, but at least the sprawl has been fairly well contained (in comparison) for the time being.

Anyway, the drive back to the boondocks gives me plenty of time to listen to a bunch of the podcasts I subscribe to. A favorite is a radio show based out of San Diego called The Competitors Radio Show, hosted by former world class triathletes Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle. Needless to say the show focuses on endurance sports like triathlons, running and cycling, which for geeks like me is really fascinating. As far as I can tell, Babbitt and Huddle host the only show like The Competitors and that’s a shame.

So while driving home on Friday night I listened to a rebroadcast of an interview with Greg LeMond, the three-time champion and first American winner of the Tour de France. LeMond is the man who put cycling in the U.S. on the map. In places like Philadelphia and Lancaster, cycling (and running) are mainstream participatory sports that exploded after LeMond won his first Tour in 1986. But frankly, that’s about all I knew about LeMond. Sure, I had heard about the comments regarding Lance Armstrong and now Floyd Landis, but it really didn’t seem like much of a big deal.

Isn’t every cyclist suspected of doping these days?

Still, some had written LeMond off as a bitter jerk since his record in France had been broken. No one seemed to notice when LeMond said Armstrong’s record run was the best thing the ever happened to cycling. But in July 2004 when LeMond said that “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” well, that made all the papers.

LeMond is right, of course, but you know…

Regardless, during the interview LeMond explained he realized doping took a firm grip on cycling when guys he never heard of rode by him like he was standing still – and he was in the best shape of his life with three Tour de France titles. Listening to LeMond it sounds as if cycling and baseball hit the doping era at the same time with similar results. While no-name riders were doing wheelies by the best rider in the world, the 50-homer plateau was topped 22 times from 1996 to now. From 1977 to 1995, one player hit 50 homers. Meanwhile, from 1961, when Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, to 1996, only three players hit 50 homers in a season.

From listening to LeMond it sounded as if all cyclists Brady Andersons were slugging 50 homers every year.

LeMond also revealed that during Floyd Landis’ ride for the Tour de France title it appeared as if the statistics were back to normal. He noted that he was withholding judgment about the defending champion (for now), and that he had a confidential conversation with Landis that he was going to keep private. This interview was originally recorded last August.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

Dressed in another bold, yellow tie with a dark suit, Floyd Landis faced cross-examination on Tuesday in the USADA arbitration hearing. It is from the those hearings at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. where it will be determined whether or not the Lancaster County native gets to keep his Tour de France title or becomes the first rider in the long history of the race to be stripped of his yellow clothing.

Oddly, though, a majority of the questions Landis faced were regarding LeMond and his role in a potential witness tampering, which bordered on obscene and insane. Instead of answering questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs during the now infamous 17th stage of last summer’s Tour de France, Landis had to explain his actions regarding Will Geoghegan, his “friend” and former representative who threatened LeMond by telephone last week by threatening to reveal that LeMond had been sexual abused of which as a child, and which only Landis knew about.

From Eddie Pells of the Associated Press:
“Would you agree, that as my mother used to say, that a person’s character is revealed more by their actions than their words?” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency attorney Matthew Barnett asked Landis.

“It sounds like a good saying,” Landis said.

Then, it got ugly, as Barnett dredged up events surrounding testimony LeMond gave last Thursday. On that day, the three-time Tour champion testified he’d received a phone call the night before from Landis’ manager, Will Geoghegan, who threatened to divulge LeMond’s secret.

USADA lawyers cross-examined Landis about everything from the color of his tie to the timing of his decision to fire his manager.

Barnett tried to portray Landis and Geoghegan as scheming together to keep LeMond from testifying, then not showing remorse until they got caught.

Landis said that although he was sitting near Geoghegan when the manager made the call last Wednesday night, he didn’t know what was going on until later.

Barnett tried to pin him down on when, exactly, he told his attorneys of the call, and why he waited to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond revealed details of the call on the witness stand.

Landis testified that he told his attorneys about the call as soon as he arrived to the hearing room Thursday, though nobody thought to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond’s testimony.

“In hindsight, I probably should have fired him immediately, but I needed someone to talk to,” Landis said.

USADA attorneys tried to portray Landis as an active participant in the LeMond plan. They pointed to his wardrobe that day — a black suit with a black tie instead of the yellow tie he’s worn every other day of the hearing — as evidence that he had it in for LeMond.

“That’s why I wore the black suit, because it was a terrible thing that happened,” Landis said. “It wasn’t a thing to celebrate by wearing a yellow tie.”

Was the black tie symbolic support for LeMond?

“No. It was a disaster. Nothing good could come out of that day,” Landis said.

Landis was also questioned about some unflattering Internet postings where he called LeMond a “pathetic human,” though didn’t seem to face much heat when it came to discussing doping.

The focus, as it appears, will be on the circus and not the science. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though. Credibility is the real issue in the arbitration hearing and to most folks it doesn’t seem as if Landis has any no matter what the science might say.

Why? Will Geoghegan, of course.

My mother used to say that a person is known by the company they keep. Or, as Rocky Balboa said in the original film, “If you have knucklehead friends, people will think you are a knucklehead.”

It’s difficult argue with that logic.

Look, we want to give Landis the benefit of the doubt and it seems like something is amiss with the tests and the ratios and everything involved in the epic ride to the Tour de France victory that should have been the best sports story of the year. But if Floyd is so willing to get down and dirty with a seemingly scorched earth attack where something as horrible as sexual abuse of a child is fair game.

Certainly Geoghegan was the one who made the calls to LeMond and Floyd said he was embarrassed by it all – but he didn’t do anything about it when it happened. To me that makes Landis complicit.

According to Lee Jenkins’ story in The New York Times:

Landis and Geoghegan were clearly close. Landis said he gave Geoghegan all of his phone numbers, including LeMond’s. And Landis told Geoghegan that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child, after LeMond shared that secret with Landis.

Landis’s choice of friends and clothes were both on trial Tuesday. Barnett asked Landis why he showed up in court for LeMond’s testimony Thursday wearing all black, when he showed up the other days in much brighter colors. Landis has an obvious preference for yellow ties, evoking the yellow jersey worn by the Tour de France leader.

Through it all, watching from the gallery were Paul and Arlene Landis, the Mennonite parents of the most notorious bike rider in history. I wonder what they were thinking?

For the best recaps of the arbitration hearing, check out Trust But Verify, Steroid Nation and ESPN’s page of stories. Better yet, check out The Competitors Radio Show interview with San Diego Times-Union writer, Mark Zeigler. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, in baseball Jason Giambi says baseball owes the fans an apology for something and MLB wants to investigate. I guess being in baseball means you never have to apologize?

Tomorrow: Back to Baseball.

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