LeMond testimony hurts Landis' case -- outside of court
MALIBU, Calif. -- For those of you scoring the Floyd Landis doping case at home, a bit of advice:
Take a deep breath.
It remains to be seen whether three-time Tour de France victor Greg LeMond's sensational testimony against accused 2006 Tour winner Landis will have any significant impact on a fight that most likely will pivot on deep science, not the deep and twisted roots of a three-way feud between the only U.S. riders to win cycling's most famous event.
The only sure bet is that Landis' battle to win over public opinion took a massive hit Thursday after his business manager, former teammate and close friend Will Geoghegan was revealed to have made a legally ill-advised and personally vicious phone call to LeMond on the eve of LeMond's appearance at Landis' arbitration hearing.
Everyone in the courtroom knew LeMond agreed to testify for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency because he was out to help the agency's case against Landis. Case insiders also knew that the two riders had an acrimonious phone conversation last August, shortly after Landis' positive tests were announced, and assumed LeMond would describe that call in unflattering terms.
But few people were prepared for the broadside LeMond delivered with the simple, modern act of handing his BlackBerry to USADA lawyer Matt Barnett, who placed it on the podium to display the phone number on an overhead projector.
The number shown was one reporters covering the case had entered in their cell phones many times over the past few months as Geoghegan barnstormed the country with his friend Landis, rallying support for Landis and asking fans for contributions to fund his defense.
One can only imagine how donors to the Floyd Fairness Fund felt when they learned about what LeMond said next.
The courtroom was silent and still, except for Landis lawyer Maurice Suh, who whirled toward Geoghegan at the first mention of the phone call and began whispering to him intensely. Geoghegan, a former rider who first befriended Landis when Landis was a teenager, sat with his head bowed and his exposed neck flushed crimson in the row of seats behind the defense table.
LeMond earlier had said that during the August phone call, he confided details of his own childhood sexual abuse to Landis and implored him to admit that he had doped, a confession LeMond said could "save cycling" and Landis' own mental health.
"You were sharing this in an effort to help him?" Barnett asked.
"Yes," LeMond said.
According to LeMond, Geoghegan tried to use that information in a threatening phone call placed at 6:53 p.m. Wednesday night.
"I'm your uncle, and I'll be there tomorrow," LeMond said a then-anonymous man told him, and continued with references to vocabulary best known to pedophiles. LeMond later traced the number using a paid Internet search.
There were no public protests about the veracity of LeMond's testimony about that call. On the contrary, it seemed to be confirmed by what LeMond later characterized as Geoghegan's clumsily attempted apology during a recess, quickly followed by Suh's announcement that the cyclist had severed all professional ties with Geoghegan.
The ironic consequence of Geoghegan's action was that it gave LeMond's statements greater impact. Without it, LeMond's other testimony would have boiled down to an ambiguous he-said, he-said about his original chat with Landis last August.
Landis called LeMond to chew him out for making publicly critical statements after Landis' positive drug test was confirmed. LeMond's recounting of that dialogue, while intriguing, hardly constituted a smoking gun.
"I would hope and encourage you to come clean," LeMond said he told Landis.
"What good would that do," LeMond said Landis replied. "If I did, it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people."
The potential problem with that testimony, as spoke-heads know, is that its essence so closely resembles a similar conversation LeMond said he had with Lance Armstrong after the Texan won his third Tour de France in 2001.
How believable is it that LeMond had the ability to induce veiled admissions from both of the other American Tour winners, when a battery of lawyers and investigators and journalists have failed at the same task for the past eight years?
During his testimony, LeMond recalled in November reading a Landis entry on a message board at dailypeloton.com in which he called LeMond "a pathetic human" and adding "If he ever opens his mouth again and the word 'Floyd' comes out, I will tell you all some things you wish you didn't know and unfortunately I will have joined the race to the bottom that is now in progress."
Still, without Geoghegan's phone call, it's likely that LeMond would have added drama and not much more to the case against Landis. The logic for USADA's tactic, other than breaking up the stultifying but critical deluge of scientific evidence that has streamed by over the previous three days, is unknown to observers.
The agency's lawyers, like Landis' attorneys, are barred from public comment during the case. Perhaps after months of restraining themselves from responding to Landis' campaign, USADA officials didn't mind throwing some public relations pasta of their own against the wall and seeing what stuck.
At this point, it's not even certain that any of LeMond's testimony will be allowed into evidence. Howard Jacobs, who has defended numerous athletes against doping charges, dived quickly into the Armstrong material on cross-examination, making reference to LeMond's testimony in a civil case Armstrong brought against a Dallas-based insurance company that withheld a promised bonus because of doping rumors about him.
Armstrong won that case, but LeMond's deposition, later leaked to the press, contained more detail on the bad blood, charges and countercharges between the two men.
LeMond was ready for that line of questioning and brought his personal attorney, Bruce Manning, with him. Manning advised LeMond not to testify about the old civil case. Jacobs objected, saying he was laying a foundation for LeMond's motive to defame more recent Tour winners.
Heated discussion ensued, and the arbitrators finally asked for written briefs from both sides so they can rule on the issue later.
"I will say that I will not answer anything about Lance Armstrong," LeMond blurted out at one point, without being formally asked. "This is about cycling and about Floyd Landis."
It couldn't be lost on anyone that Armstrong's presence has been hovering over this proceeding even before it began. Last week, Landis told reporters USADA offered him a deal if he could offer any "incriminating" evidence against his former boss.
The real losers Thursday were American cycling fans who have watched these three men do parade laps in Paris with the U.S. flag in hand 11 times since 1986. LeMond, Armstrong and Landis continue to be enmeshed in a dense and venom-laced web. The race to the bottom, as Landis put it, seems as vehemently contested as the 2,000-mile race that will forever link them.
Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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