BIG BEAR LAKE, California -- Wes Zuber has a message for Floyd Landis. He wants his money back.
Had Landis been in the Tour of California -- and, apparently, that simple invitation to ride would have been enough to overcome the tremendous guilt swelling inside his body over the past four years and keep him from spilling the beans -- he could have read this message for himself. It was right there in yellow chalk on the Blue Ridge climb in Friday's Stage 6, where Zuber and his friends wrote "$50 FRAUD LANDIS" across the pavement for the riders to see.
Zuber heard Landis give a talk at a bike shop in Rialto, Calif., a couple years ago, back when Landis was vigorously maintaining his innocence and calling on fans to help his legal battle to clear his name. Impressed by what he heard and by the rider's predicament, Zuber donated $50 to Landis' legal defense fund.
Zuber thought Landis was telling the truth when the cyclist said he was innocent; now, Zuber is pretty sure Landis is telling the truth when he says he cheated.
After stubbornly claiming innocence for four years, Landis admitted to ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford this week he doped during his career, including when he "won" the 2006 Tour de France. Landis is hardly the first athlete to maintain innocence for years before finally fessing up. But what makes him different is he solicited donations from thousands of fans to plead his case, a sum that has been estimated at around $1 million.
The Floyd Fairness Fund offered signed thank-you notes from Landis for $75 donations and signed yellow jerseys for $2,000 donations. Fans held fundraising rides. Bike shops set out jugs for customers to donate. For Landis to now say, "Sorry, I lied, but don't worry, all your checks cleared," is a stunning act of betrayal even by the standard of modern society.
Doping in a bike race is one thing. Landis probably feels much worse about getting caught than actually doping in races in which so many competitors did likewise. He should feel much guiltier about taking the money from fans who believed in him. That's his greater crime. He was a traveling salesman, crossing the country and selling books on a lie, with no regard for the people writing him checks.
"I think he's a traitor," said Zuber's friend, Tim Cauby. "First, he said he was innocent, and now he's saying he's guilty and dragging everyone else into it. C'mon, have a little class. Where's the class in that? I don't get it. I don't get the guy. To do all the spending he did saying he's innocent and then turn around and drag everyone through the mud and say he's guilty and he knew all along -- it's just wrong. Wrong for cycling.
"I lost all my respect for Floyd Landis. Now he's a fraud. That's his name. We came up with that last night. Fraud Landis."
Actually, Zuber, Cauby and several other friends came up with other names for Landis while camped out on the side of the highway the night before Stage 6, but decided they might get in trouble if they chalked those names on the road. So they settled on the "$50 Fraud Landis" message, then sat back to watch the Tour of California go past in the first big mountain stage in the race's history.
Had Landis gotten his way, he would have ridden in the ToC and likely maintained his lie (at least for now). And if that was the case, Zuber and his friends would not have chalked their message on the road. They would have cheered him on. So in that way, it's good Landis confessed to doping, even if his motivation is questionable and his credibility unreliable. It's always better to know, even when it doesn't feel so good.
"I do want my $50 back," Zuber said.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.