- Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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Two years, close to $4 million spent by both sides combined, and an unquantifiable amount of collateral damage later, Floyd Landis' doping case rolled across what is normally the administrative finish line on Monday. The Court of Arbitration for Sport released its ruling upholding a lower panel's opinion that Landis was guilty as charged of using synthetic testosterone to boost his performance in the 2006 Tour de France.
It wouldn't be accurate to say the result completely stunned Landis or his legal team, but the tone surprised them.
Unlike the first panel, which split 2-1 on conviction and scolded the French lab that handled Landis' test samples for having done sloppy work, the three CAS arbitrators reserved their wrath for the 32-year-old cyclist, who has been fighting to retain his Tour title since a few days after he won it.
In an unprecedented move, the panel ordered Landis to pay $100,000 in legal costs, saying his defense team raised numerous issues the panel considered unfounded -- or "barely arguable," in their exact words. You don't have to read between the lines of the scathing rationale to understand the arbitrators felt their valuable time had been wasted.
Landis doesn't see it that way, and for that reason and a few others, we may not have seen the last of this case.
"They will never get to the end of how much I can take," Landis told ESPN.com Monday, sounding much as he used to when he was talking about what is blithely called "suffering" on the bike. "I'm not happy that I'm the person who has to take this, but I would never allow myself to be treated this way and ever give up."
The order to reimburse was odd in a couple of ways. It represented only about a 10th of what the case apparently cost anti-doping authorities -- at least if we can be guided by statements made by World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey, who recently suggested Landis be dunned for $1.3 million.
Said Landis' lead counsel, Maurice Suh: "It's a round number that bears no resemblance to whatever was incurred. Cost awards are usually specific. It's almost like a penalty, and it's going to have a chilling effect for every other athlete who wants to defend themselves."
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had asked for "appropriate" reimbursement. Lead attorney Richard Young of the outside firm of Holme Roberts & Owen said the prosecution, as it were, blew a lot of money granting Landis' request to produce witnesses who then weren't called to testify. Young said he didn't think the $100,000 would deter any athlete from mounting a "legitimate, good-faith" defense.
Landis presented very little in the way of new scientific evidence at the four-day hearing held March behind closed doors in the offices of a New York law firm. But Suh and Paul Scott, a lawyer with experience as a research chemist who has designed anti-doping programs for cycling teams, did escalate their attacks on some of the employees and procedures at the Chatenay-Malabry lab near Paris.
I'm not happy that I'm the person who has to take this, but I would never allow myself to be treated this way and ever give up.
-- Floyd Landis after Monday's CAS ruling
One new line of questioning concerned the all-important "chain of custody" of Landis' original urine sample. A woman who wasn't called as a witness in the original hearing testified by phone about an apparent discrepancy in paperwork she filed about the whereabouts and timing of the sample's journey through the lab. Her testimony, delivered with her young child screaming in the background, according to someone who was present, proved fraud and cover-up, according to Landis' side, and was perfectly explainable, according to Young.
The point of questioning chain of custody, as any court junkie knows, is that evidence that's not being properly safeguarded can be altered. But the arbitrators dismissed any such notion in the Landis case, saying there was no doubt the sample was his and calling speculation that it could have been tampered with "fanciful."
The lone victory, moral or otherwise, for Landis was the panel rejected the USADA's push to extend his suspension eight more months from January to September of next year. In August 2007, Landis raced in something called the Leadville 100, a mountain biking event held at high altitude in Colorado that is open to both amateurs and professionals. Landis didn't even have a pro license at the time, but he did ask the race organizers if the event was sanctioned, which would have meant he shouldn't participate in it according to the terms of his suspension. He was assured -- incorrectly -- that it wasn't.
Landis' suspension already had commenced about five months after his original positive test, due to some legal cross-currents that aren't worth going into here. The effort to slap him with the equivalent of a probation violation for riding in Leadville does appear from the outside to smack of piling on, although Young firmly denies he has any personal animosity toward Landis or any other athlete he's tried a case against.
Suh said Landis' team is contemplating its legal options. One is to appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which has jurisdiction over CAS cases because CAS is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, though the court will only consider cases in which Swiss law may have been violated. Only one CAS ruling -- a case involving Argentine tennis player Guillermo Canas -- has ever been sent back to CAS by the Tribunal, and CAS essentially rubber-stamped its own decision.
The other option is to roll the dice in the U.S. court system. Young said he's not concerned about that, especially since runner Justin Gatlin's effort to have his case reviewed there was so recently rebuffed. "I'd be surprised if [Landis] did that, and my guess is if he does, it'll be a frivolous effort," Young said. "There was more opportunity to gather evidence and be heard in this case than any other doping case in history."
Monday's ruling is public information, posted on the CAS Web site. The briefs and testimony will surely make their way into cyberspace as all the other material in the Landis case has, to be exhaustively parsed by partisans on both sides. It will be considerably harder to make sense of it because the hearing was closed. Although both sides seemed relieved to be out of the media's eye before and during the CAS hearing, Scott, for one, regrets it wasn't open.
"I really think the reason that the [initial] panel was so hard on the lab is because people were there," Scott said. "This lab's practices are so bad, but they're so easy to fix, and it's so important to all of the anti-doping movement to fix them."
Landis said the latest ruling in his case is "a disaster for all the athletes trying to make a career of the sport they love." He's not sure if he'll ever race again. "One thing I don't want to do is subject myself to this farcical system again," he said.
But his tone turned unexpectedly warm when he turned to the subject of the race he yearned to be in, won, then lost so quickly. The 2008 Tour de France starts Saturday.
"I hope people who are interested in bicycle racing forget about me by the end of the week and turn on the television and watch the Tour, and give those guys the respect and attention they deserve," he said.
There's probably a good chance of that. People are understandably weary of doping in general and the Landis case in particular. However, it would be a mistake to assume that because he lost, the next athlete who comes along claiming lab error is somehow unworthy, or trying to use a "technicality" the way a kid says his dog ate his homework.
If the pendulum is going to swing back to the right side in the war on doping, the labs have to be held to as high a standard as the athletes, or higher. Otherwise, we can just throw a tarp over all sports, empty the kegs, turn out the lights, lock the gates and tell each other it was great while it lasted.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. E-mail her at email@example.com.