(Update: Floyd Landis rejects doping claim, July 27, 2006)
Say it ain't so, Floyd. Was winning the Tour de France so important that you had to resort to cheating? Let's hope not.
Even after several top cyclists were expelled prior to the Tour over doping allegations, I'm still shocked to hear that Floyd Landis tested positive for the banned substance testosterone in a sample taken after his historic Stage 17 victory. Another analysis is scheduled.
It's like talking with a friend on a pleasant bike ride and getting blindsided by a low-hanging branch at the side of the road.
His Phonak team has confirmed that Landis had “an unusual level” of testosterone in his sample and has been suspended from further racing until a follow-up test on a “B” sample can be taken. If it comes back positive as well, the team will fire the American cyclist.
Landis is seeking the analysis “to prove either that this result is coming from a natural process or that this is resulting from a mistake.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets standards for athletes, lists testosterone under the Anabolic Androgenic Steroids category in its List of Prohibited Substances. Steroids are substances that promote muscle growth.
4 times normal ratio
While testosterone is a naturally occurring male sex hormone, regulators test the level of testosterone to determine if the athlete is cheating. A WADA urine test checks the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (another natural hormone), which is usually equal in humans. A testosterone-epitestosterone sample of 4 to 1 or greater is considered a positive result, AP reports.
I remember reading (NY Times, July 10) that Landis received injections (cortisone) to ease the pain of his degenerated hip. Could that injection cause the higher than normal testosterone ratio? That might be his defense.
Meanwhile, Landis has been out of touch. He didn't show up to a scheduled criterium bike race in the Netherlands on Wednesday and skipped out on another criterium in Denmark on Thursday. Also, NBC announced that Landis will miss Friday's Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he was scheduled to appear.
Ironically, Landis got his job as leader of the Swiss-based Phonak team after another American, Tyler Hamilton, tested positive for blood doping in the 2004 Vuelta d'Espana.
The Whittier Daily News published a piece by a former reporter, Frank C. Girardot, who happens to live next door to Landis in Murrieta, California. In their many conversations, Girardot asked Landis about doping:
“Floyd called it cheating and decried the practice in his sport and others.”
Much has been written about the 30-year-old's Mennonite upbringing in Pennsylvania and its strong basis on values and work ethic. Although he dropped out of that culture when he moved to southern California to pursue bicycle racing, many said those virtues gave him the strength to overcome obstacles — like his 8:08 deficit going into Stage 17 at the Tour de France.
Reached by the AP, his mother Arlene Landis said she wouldn't blame her son for taking medication to ease the pain of his hip.
“If it's something worse than that, then he doesn't deserve to win. I didn't talk to him since that hit the fan, but I'm keeping things even keel until I know what the facts are. I know that this is a temptation to every rider but I'm not going to jump to conclusions … It disappoints me.”
Believe me, we'd all be disappointed.
Lance Armstrong, questioned about Landis while grabbing a piece of coconut cream pie during RAGBRAI, said: “I'm not here to talk about that.”
Oscar Pereiro, who finished second at the Tour and would receive the championship if it's stripped from Landis, said: “Should I win the Tour now it would feel like an academic victory. The way to celebrate a win is in Paris, otherwise it's just a bureaucratic win.”