Fans of Floyd deserved more than this

Updated: May 19, 2007, 2:14 PM ET
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

If I dug into my pocket to give to the Floyd Fairness Fund, I'd be firing off a letter asking for a refund right about now. Over the past few months, Landis raised a reported $600,000 by painting himself as the underdog. Now we learn that, until Thursday, Landis had a manager who thought of himself as a member of the underworld.

The Floyd Fairness Fund had all the qualities of an old-fashioned barnstorming tour. There was the woman from Pennsylvania who didn't have much money, but hosted a "Keep the Faith" ride in her town that cost $75 to join. There were the folks who paid to meet him in bars in San Jose, San Francisco and San Pedro. ("I enjoy the socializing," Landis said in one particularly happy moment.) And there was the Dallas bike shop owner who personally matched his customers' contributions.

To most of these folks, a donation to help Landis fight the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was better money spent than a De La Hoya-Mayweather pay-per-view. But, as it turns out, they really were paying for a poorly written "Sopranos" episode. How else can you explain the call that Landis' manager, Will Geoghegan, reportedly made to Greg LeMond, threatening to expose sexual abuse LeMond said he suffered as a child if LeMond followed through on a promise to testify against Landis?

I've treated thousands of Mennonite people. And I don't know I've ever caught one in a lie. That man is innocent.

Albert Wolbach

"I've been in a lot of courtrooms," says Gary Woolfolk, a 54-year-old retired Dallas lawyer who gave $500 to the Fairness Fund and believes Landis had nothing to do with the intimidation attempt. "I've seen a lot of people do a lot of stupid things on the eve of a trial."

As stupid as using the phone number listed on your business card to call a witness who you're about to threaten? As stupid as letting LeMond show up to court the next day with that number still in his phone's memory? When I donate to a charity, I want to know it's well-managed. Geoghegan seemed to be taking pointers from ex-FEMA director Michael Brown.

This wasn't what Landis, who was raised a Mennonite, had in mind when he stepped into a Pepperdine University auditorium in Malibu, Calif. and opened his hearing to the public. He wanted to show a system so riven by incompetence, so protected by unfair rules, that it was nearly impossible for an innocent athlete to beat USADA. In news conferences, he kept harping on the agency's eerily unbeaten record in arbitration hearings, and how unfair it is that judges who hear these cases must be taken from a list pre-approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

He also paid for investigators to dig deep into the workings of the French lab that reported finding synthetic testosterone in one of his Tour samples. So many breaches of WADA's policies and procedures turned up, the place looked like it was being run on Burgundy.

But then the law of unintended consequences kicked in. By opening the hearing, Team Landis has given us a juicier look at cycling than we expected. Who knew, as LeMond testified, that Landis hinted at retribution in a dailypeloton.com message board post, calling 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."

Geoghegan's apology -- "I have been very angry about how unfair this whole proceeding is to Floyd, a great friend and a greater champion, and stupidly tried to take out my anger on Greg. I acted on my own, impulsively, after a beer or two." -- hardly makes any of this seem better. If you want high-minded courtroom theater, see "Inherit the Wind" on Broadway.

Fortunately for Floyd, the people who donated to his fund don't seem to be having any buyer's remorse … at least not yet.

Albert Wolbach, a retired doctor who was one of 300 people to buy a $35 ticket to a recent event at the performing arts center in Ephrata, Pa., says: "I've treated thousands of Mennonite people. And I don't know I've ever caught one in a lie. That man is innocent."

Chris Fortune, president of Saris Cycling Group and a longtime sponsor, adds: "I don't know what the hell happened with that call. All I can tell you that I've known Floyd a long time, and his character and commitment have been unwavering."

Jim Hoyt, the 59-year-old owner of Richardson Bike Mart in Dallas, matched $25,000 of his customers' contributions and says he "still feels good about it." He also thinks Landis shouldn't be blamed for his manager's actions. "I have 150 people who work for me and from time to time, they do things I don't know about," he says. "It happens."

Maybe. And the blogosphere is filled with people portraying LeMond, a three-time Tour winner, as a has-been with a vendetta for Landis. But after learning that Landis' recently fired manager threatened LeMond, I wonder how many Floyd Fairness Fund fans will line up to stage charity bike rides now.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"

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