Courtroom twists muffle Landis' doping denials

Updated: May 20, 2007, 1:17 AM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

MALIBU, Calif. -- Taking the stand in your own defense is often viewed as a risky maneuver. Floyd Landis, however, had little choice Saturday.

Landis has spoken out frequently and freely in the months since he was accused of using synthetic testosterone to help him win last year's Tour de France. Clamming up now, at a public hearing he requested, surely would have been seen as suspect by fans and cynics -- not to mention the three arbitrators who will decide the case.

After listening to more than five days of testimony intended to build the case against him, the 31-year-old Landis got his first chance under oath to tell his story his way, to firmly deny using performance-enhancing drugs and portray himself as a person of character.

When his lawyer, Howard Jacobs, concluded the questioning by asking why the panel should believe him, Landis had an answer ready.

Floyd Landis
AP Photo/Reed SaxonFloyd Landis, listening to testimony Saturday, later took the stand and repeatedly denied doping.
"People are defined by their principles and how they make their decisions," Landis said deliberately, slowing his usual rapid-burst speech pattern. "To me, bicycle racing was rewarding for the pure fact that I was proud of myself when I put the work into it and I could see the results and get something out of it.

"It wouldn't serve any purpose to cheat and win the Tour, because I wouldn't be proud of it. That's just not what the goal was, from the beginning."

But Landis' message was diluted by a lengthy detour into the sordid incident divulged at the hearing two days ago.

Jacobs led Landis through the events of Wednesday evening, when Landis' friend and business manager, Will Geoghegan, placed a threatening call to three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond, who was set to testify against Landis the next day.

Landis' account answered some questions, but left others yawning open. His image will not be enhanced by the revelation that he was in the same room as Geoghegan -- an unspecified distance away, at the other end of a dinner table in a banquet room at their hotel in nearby Calabasas -- when Geoghegan made his call.

When Geoghegan's cell phone rang a minute later, Landis heard him say LeMond was calling back.

"That's when it sunk in that he had called Greg LeMond, and then I knew it was a problem," Landis said. Minutes later, Landis said, he went to Geoghegan's room just as Geoghegan was denying to a furious LeMond that he was involved in the Landis case.

Geoghegan has admitted to parlaying knowledge that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child -- information LeMond confided in Landis and Landis passed along to Geoghegan and others close to him -- into the anonymous warning LeMond interpreted as an attempt to intimidate him from appearing at the hearing.

Although Landis testified he didn't know Geoghegan planned to make the call, and didn't overhear or condone its contents, his subsequent actions are sure to be combed over by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency lawyers who will cross-examine Landis on Monday afternoon.

It's consumed my entire life. It's forever connected to me. Anytime the Tour comes up, or bicycle racing comes up, that will be the subject. I can't imagine how it would change.

Floyd Landis

Landis has opened the door to a debate over his principles, and thus USADA lawyers might be expected to ask why he did not disassociate himself from Geoghegan on the spot when he learned of the call. The two discussed whether they should tell Landis' lawyers that night and decided against it.

Twenty-four hours later, apparently still feeling a tug of loyalty toward Geoghegan, his friend and former mountain biking teammate, Landis helped Geoghegan move out of their hotel.

Still, the matter of whether any of LeMond's testimony will be entered into evidence remains in limbo. It's not certain the arbitrators will rule on the issue before this portion of the hearing closes Wednesday. The panel has decided to hear closing arguments at a time and place to be decided. The final decision will likely follow three to four weeks after that.

Geoghegan-gate is also arguably the least damaging part of LeMond's testimony where the question of Landis' alleged testosterone use -- remember that? -- is concerned. Landis also addressed the supposed implicit admission of guilt he made to LeMond in a phone conversation last August, telling an entirely different version.

"I told him I didn't do it, and it wouldn't make any sense to admit to something I wouldn't do,'' Landis said.

Having Landis dissect l'affaire LeMond first, before doing it under hostile questioning from USADA's lawyers, is an understandable tactical move. But every minute spent on it is precious time hijacked from Landis' mission to present himself as a convincing witness to the panel, and a wronged athlete to the public.

There has been much testimony about "background noise" in this case. The phrase is a technical term for interference that clouds chromatograms, the graphic representations of test results generated by mass spectrometry and the map that enables scientists to determine whether synthetic testosterone was present in an athlete's system.

Every bit of non-scientific background noise in the Landis hearings, including witnesses LeMond and confessed doper Joe Papp, distracts from the real issue, which is whether or not the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory's tests were properly performed and the results valid.

That was illustrated when Dr. Don Catlin, former director of the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab at UCLA and one of the most respected professionals in the field, summarized in one concise sentence Saturday what it took Papp a tortured couple of hours to relate the day before. "In my opinion, low-dose testosterone would enhance recovery from major exercise," Catlin said.

The occasionally deafening background noise generated by the LeMond subplot also hurts Landis' efforts to salvage what's left of his reputation, which he noted has been irreparably harmed no matter how the arbitrators rule.

"It has changed everything," Landis said. "I think that's clear. It's consumed my entire life. It's forever connected to me. Anytime the Tour comes up, or bicycle racing comes up, that will be the subject. I can't imagine how it would change."

His mother Arlene, wearing her hair in a bun covered by the traditional Mennonite bonnet, watched quietly from the front row as her son testified. Earlier in the day, she stopped by the press room and acknowledged she was nervous.

"I'm praying as hard as I ever have in my life," Arlene Landis said, managing a small smile. "It's about the truth."

This lovely, dignified woman might have been the most optimistic person in the courtroom.

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.