EPHRATA, Pa. – It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not here. Not now. In any other era or any other point of history, Floyd Landis should be relaxing after a ride through the Pyrenees near his training base in Girona, Spain, or perhaps even trekking his way from France to London ahead of the prologue of the Tour de France, which is set to begin next Saturday.
Perhaps even he would be preparing for a ceremonial role in the 2007 Tour de France after undergoing hip-replacement surgery last November. Instead of leading his team through the heat of the French lowlands and the brutal climbs up the Pyrenees and Alps every day for three weeks, Landis could have been like the Grand Marshal in the race he won quite dramatically just a year ago. It could have been like a victory lap around the entire country and a way for the American rider from Lancaster County, Pa. to say thanks to the fans for witnessing the culmination of a lot of blood and sweat to make a dream come true.
Better yet, he could simply be watching it all from a top-floor suite at Le Meridien with sweeping views of the elegant City of Lights and an unobstructed look at the Eiffel Tower. That is if he had not chosen to grind it up Alpe d’Huez or Col du Galibier in an attempt to bring home two in a row.
Yeah, that’s how it was supposed be.
Instead, Landis was sitting on a soft couch in a dimly lit but comfortable room atop of a bicycle shop near his old stomping grounds in Ephrata, Pa. answering a reporter’s questions. And he’s trying to figure out the fastest way down Route 222 in order to get from Ephrata to Lancaster for an appearance at a Barnes & Noble. From there it was figuring out how to negotiate the Schuylkill Expressway for another media outing. Instead of stages on the tour like Mazamet to Plateau-de-Beille, Landis will be attempting to get from West Chester, Pa. to Washington, D.C. to Wheaton, Ill.
Instead, Landis has lost a potential $10 million in earnings and has spent more than $1 million of his own money to clear his name.
What a difference a year makes, huh?
“I wasn’t doing this (last year),” Landis said. “Right about now I was flying from California to France to start the Tour and I was in the best shape of my life. I’m not so much now, but I’m into some other stuff.”
That other stuff is a different type of tour. Call it the Tour de Book or the Tour de Plead-thy-Case. Landis was relaxing after an afternoon ride in Souderton, Pa. to help promote the Univest Grand Prix race that will take place on Sept. 8. While relaxing, he multitasked by taking a phone call from a reporter before entertaining questions from another reporter from a Lancaster TV station and newspaper. After that, it was off to the Barnes & Noble in Lancaster where he would sign copies of his new book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France until late into the evening.
That’s what his life is like these days – another city; another stage; more books to sign; and more reporters asking questions leading to the same theme of, “Did you do it?” Or “How can they get away with it?” It’s a different kind of preparation with more grueling jagged mountains to climb. But unlike the Tour de France, this tour doesn’t have an end in sight.
And when it does end, it could end badly.
Needless to say, Landis hasn’t thought much about his victory in the Tour de France and it’s no wonder that he was a bit unsure of when the world’s biggest cycling race was going to begin this year. In a sense it’s like he never really won it behind the cursory pomp and celebration, but then it didn’t really mean anything yet.
“At some levels it seems like forever and other levels it went very quickly,” he said. “The whole thing was a strange experience. Winning the Tour in the first place – although it was a goal – you can imagine it all you want, but it’s not the same until it really happens. Then I basically had two days to think about it and in those two days even if you win or just finish you feel awful for awhile. So I got through those two days and I really didn’t get a chance to think about, and little did I know those were my only two days to enjoy it, and then this whole doping thing started.
“Right there that eliminated any thought of winning the Tour from my mind. It’s always been dealing with this – and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how the process worked, how the testing worked, and for that matter I didn’t even know what the accusation was against me. I didn’t have any paperwork or anything. It took about two months for me to get it. So everything I thought about and learned was just about what I needed to do and how to deal with the press, and obviously, I had very little idea.”
The whole doping thing has been Landis’ life since he stepped off the victory podium in Paris last July. His life, to this point, has been spent learning the intricacies of science and legal world, with equal parts circus thrown in. Along the way, Landis has become not only the biggest pariah in sports outside of baseball players Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, but also one of the pioneers in the battle for athletes’ rights as he fights to retain his 2006 Tour de France championship that could be stripped from him for an alleged positive test for testosterone following the 17th stage of the race.
Never mind the fact that Landis has not tested positive for anything before or after the now infamous Stage 17, there is a pretty good chance that he could be a banned doper despite the mountains of evidence accumulated that indicate otherwise.
And what if the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) arbitration panel rules against Landis?
“If they rule against me, they are going to have to fabricate something,” said Landis, who could face a two-year ban and become the first ever rider to be stripped of his Tour de France victory if he is convicted.
Man on a mission
It would be very difficult these days to find any one in America who hasn’t heard of Floyd Landis, the recovering Mennonite from little old Farmersville, Pa. in bucolic Lancaster County. Winning one of the biggest sporting events in the world has a way of making anonymity disappear. Everybody knows Floyd Landis now. His story has been told and re-told over and over again amongst friends and acquaintances like it was the latest episode of a favorite TV show or a crazy snap of the weather.
Be that as it may, here’s a quick recap:
Before he won the Tour de France last summer and his world was turned into fodder for the gossip and science realm of the sports pages, Floyd Landis was the cult hero in professional cycling. In fact, there was not an aspect of Landis’ life that wasn’t legendary. His training methods were renowned for being grueling and insatiable.
“There’s only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won’t die,” he famously said in a pre-Tour de France Outside Magazine profile last year. “Even though you feel like you’ll die, you don’t actually die. Like when you’re training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.”
You can always do one more. That is the line that personifies Floyd Landis.
Meanwhile, his on-again-off-again relationship with the sport’s biggest star, Lance Armstrong, was something every cyclist talked about. So too was Landis’ background and Lancaster County/Mennonite roots. Growing up in Farmersville, more dusty crossroads than rural hamlet, Landis didn’t have a television.
But mostly the stories about Landis amongst cyclists start out with, “Remember the time when Floyd… ” and end with some oddball feat like, “…drank 15 cappuccinos in one sitting.” Or, “rode in the Tour de France nine weeks after having hip surgery.” Or, “ate 28 bags of peanuts during a trans-Atlantic flight.”
Floyd Landis stories are the ones that involve a person pushing himself to extreme limits and taking silly risks that sometimes end with everyone smiling about what they had just witnessed.
The story should have ended after Stage 17 of the ’06 Tour. That’s where the Legend of Floyd reached epic proportions following his legendary ride to bounce back from an equally monumental collapse just the day before. It was over just 24 hours that Landis lost the leader’s Yellow Jersey in the Tour when he “bonked” and lost nearly nine minutes off his overall lead and dropped to 11th place. But in the very next stage Landis attacked the peloton from the very beginning of the 111-mile stage to amazingly regain all the time he had lost.
A few days later he was standing all alone in Paris. Floyd Landis, the kid from Farmersville, Pa., was the winner of the Tour de France.
That’s where it was supposed to end.
Instead, he became Floyd Landis the professional defendant because a urine test after that epic Stage 17 had come back positive, revealing an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to the hormone epitestosterone (T/E ratio), according to a test conducted by the French government’s anti-doping clinical laboratory, the National Laboratory for Doping Detection. The lab is accredited by the Tour de France, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and USADA.
An arbitration hearing led by USADA took place in Malibu, Calif. in May and Landis is still waiting on a ruling from a three-member panel.
But in the months leading up to the arbitration hearing, Landis became a trailblazer of sorts. Just as he attacked during Stage 17, Landis attacked USADA with mountains of evidence culled from his positive test to make the case that, as he says, never should have tested positive. Some of the evidence Landis collected included forged documents, faulty testing procedures, erroneously contaminated urine samples, and claims that the positive finding on one of the urine samples came from a sample number not assigned to Landis.
But the real innovation came in what Landis did with the information he had gathered. Instead of waiting for the arbitration hearing and hiding out behind lawyers and legalese, he took his case to the people. Like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia which allows users to add information to an entry when new findings are made, Landis mounted a “Wiki Defense” in which he posted all of the information released by USADA and the French lab and allowed experts to help him mount his case and find errors in the opposition’s stance.
He also went on “The Floyd Fairness Tour” in which he raised money for his defense, made detailed presentations regarding his case and talked to anyone who would listen regarding the French lab’s findings and USADA’s case against him.
In a sense, Landis took his fight to the streets and claims that USADA has never once disputed any of his findings. In fact, USADA never disputed any of Landis’ arguments in the arbitration hearing, nor have they answered the claims he made in his new book, such as USADA offered a more lenient penalty if he could help the agency mount a doping case against Lance Armstrong.
USADA, an agency that receives some of its funding from U.S. taxpayers, did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment in this story.
Said Landis about USADA not disputing his testimony: “They don’t have anything to say.”
In the interim, Landis has become the leading advocate for non-union athlete’s rights against the national and world agencies. In fact, in facing new allegations from Irish investigative reporter David Walsh in a newly released book called, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, Armstrong has copied some of Landis’ moves by releasing all of the legal findings from his cases on the Internet.
So just like that Landis goes from winning the Tour de France to legal innovator? How does a guy who grew up in a home without a TV set create a “Wiki Defense” on the World Wide Web?
“That wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and honestly, I didn’t realize the jeopardy that athletes are in because it never crossed my mind. I had no problem giving a urine sample because I did it all the time and I assumed that the people testing it were legitimate and out to do the right thing. It never crossed my mind that it could be the way it is,” Landis explained. “And it’s hard for people to believe when I say it really is that bad. They think, ‘Yeah, he’s guilty. That’s why he’s trying to accuse them.’ But, even a guilty person deserves to have the evidence against him provided to him without having to spend $1 million in a year.”
Landis is mounting his legal case against the doping agencies, his information tour, and his book tour without the aid of a cycling union. In fact, if player in the NFL or Major League Baseball faced the same accusations as Landis, the players’ union would have his back. There is no such union to represent Landis.
So if Landis were a defensive lineman attacking the quarterback instead of a bicyclist attacking Alpe d’Huez would he have even tested positive?
“Of course not,” he said. “None of this should have ever happened. Look, if you’re going to enforce ethics then you have to hold yourself to the absolute highest standard. You can’t have a lab that’s doing the testing forging documents and doing just random things wrong, and when they do just write it off as, ‘Well, it’s just a mistake we’ll just write it off and ignore it.’”
It’s not the science, it’s the circus
Despite Landis’ piles of evidence and USADA not refuting them, the cyclist’s credibility was what the anti-doping agency attacked during the arbitration hearing. That’s because three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond testified that Landis’ former business manager threatened him in a crank phone call that he was going to go public with LeMond’s secret that he had been sexually abused as a child.
The manager, Will Geoghegan, was fired immediately, according to Landis, and the cyclist admits he was in the room when the call was made.
But in retrospect, Landis says LeMond’s testimony as well as the attacks against his credibility are irrelevant because LeMond and a former professional cyclist named Joe Papp were brought in to testify for USADA for no real reason.
“Either it’s science or something else. If it’s not science than what is it? Take, for instance, at the hearing where they brought in Greg LeMond and Joe Papp, neither of whom said anything,” Landis explained. “They didn’t say anything and they had no relevance. For example, Joe Papp told us that he took a bunch of drugs and apparently they didn’t help him and then he left. I didn’t know the guy, I never raced the guy – what that had to do with science is beyond me.”
Because of the LeMond controversy, the real point of the hearings was lost for headline writers and the general public, says Landis. The fact is, he says, the French lab didn’t even test him for the substance that he is accused of using.
“What really got lost and I have been trying to tell people this: when they got to the point where they had to identify the substance and they had to measure it, they identified the wrong thing. And that got lost in the whole big mess because there were so many arguments, but if you just look at that there’s no point in even talking about the rest of it. The other 200 things they did wrong don’t even matter because they didn’t even test testosterone,” Landis said.
Then, he paused, leaned forward on the couch and raised his voice beyond a normal conversational tone:
“And I don’t know how they are going to get around that! What are they going to say, ‘Well, it was something close to testosterone so we’ll just call him guilty.’ How is that going to work? I don’t know, but believe me, I’ve seen them do some pretty strange things to this point.”
An uncertain future
The Floyd Landis story has been nothing but strange. Nothing has been ordinary and nothing has come easy. Listening to Landis speak after reading his book, as well as Daniel Coyle’s Lance Armstrong’s War: One Man’s Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France, makes anyone want to stage a riot or a march proclaiming the man’s innocence. It’s very difficult not to believe him simply because he is fighting. Oftentimes people are baffled that those who claim they are wrongly accused don’t display anger and choose to hide in the legal system of behind the words of an attorney.
But Landis isn’t doing that. Instead of cashing in as every other Tour de France champion has, Landis faces the reality of personal bankruptcy. He very well could lose his home and his daughter could lose money once earmarked for her education simply because Floyd Landis believes he has been wronged and has chosen to stand up for himself.
He isn’t in France living a cushy life that years of putting in the hard work on the saddle have earned him, but instead is talking to everyone who will listen, signing every autograph requested and making sure that everyone who wants to have a book signed gets it.
Very certainly Landis could mail it in. He could give pat answers in a detached way, but chooses not to. Instead he engages everyone and has a conversation when no one has forced him to.
One of the biggest pariahs in sports has decided he has to fight. Actually, he doesn’t see any other choice.
And that leaves us with one more question… will Landis still be fighting next year at this time or will he be relaxing after a ride through the Pyrenees near his training base in Girona, Spain in preparation for another ride down the Champs Elysées?
“I hope so. I really hope so and I think so,” he said excitedly. “The longer this thing goes on the more I think things are going to work out because we put on a case that was never refuted even in the hearing.”
That, after all, was the way it was supposed to be.