Dumbfounded Landis denies cheating during Tour

Updated: July 28, 2006, 1:23 AM ET
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

Like everyone in the sports world, Floyd Landis spent Thursday trying to make sense of Thursday's news, that he tested positive for high testosterone during the Tour de France. Maybe it was the medicine he needs for his thyroid disease. Maybe it was the cortisone he took for his chronically injured hip, which is due to be replaced.

Or maybe, the Tour de France winning rider speculated, it was the Jack Daniel's he drank the night before his historic Stage 17, though that would seem a more likely excuse from George Jones than a world-class athlete.

Point is, he says he doesn't have any more idea than you do. Whatever caused the suspicious "A" sample -- a "B" sample will be tested soon, in order to confirm -- Landis insisted he has never used any performance-enhancing drugs.

Landis wants a chance
In a press conference from Europe, Floyd Landis asked for the opportunity to prove his innocence.

To hear more of Landis' reaction, Click here .

"I had everything I could have ever possibly hoped for and dreamed of for the last 10 years," he said in a conference call from an undisclosed location in Europe on Thursday, "and at the exact moment that I was told, every single scenario went through my head. There was no way for me to be able to tell myself that this wasn't going to be a disaster, whether I come out of this proving I am innocent.

"No matter what happens next, I knew it was going to be a long road. My immediate reaction was from a very, very high to a very low."

This started after his disastrous Stage 16, where he went from controlling the race to a distant 11th. He thought it was all over, so instead of getting a massage and readying himself for the next day, he and some teammates went to a bar down the street. After one beer, they were mobbed, so they returned to a hotel room, where someone produced a bottle of Jack Daniel's, which has made many a good night go bad.

The next morning, Landis went out and smoked the field, winning the stage and setting up his eventual win. Everything was great, until Wednesday, when his team received a fax informing them of the test result. Landis was quick to point out that it wasn't a failed test.

"I know now that it has not been called a positive test," he said. "It's been called an abnormal testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio, which needs to be explained one way or the other, either by some outside source of testosterone or by a physiological change of some sort."

Now the Landis camp must do just that. Both the cyclist and his doctor said there were reasonable explanations, up to, and including, Tennessee sippin' whiskey. Landis himself acknowledged the strangeness of it all, saying he had a team of experts working to find out why the ratio was out of whack.

"We're consulting with a number of the world's experts so we don't speculate," said Dr. Brent Kay, Landis' physician. "Particularly since the testing process isn't complete. … We're getting the experts involved."

In a separate conference call, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, who is on the annual RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa, urged caution.

"I will say I don't know much about Floyd's case, so I don't want to comment much," Armstrong said. "I know we have a suspicious "A" sample and we're waiting on a "B" sample to be confirmed. Until that happens, I won't have anything to say."

As everyone waits for that to happen, no one is suffering more than Landis. He said his first reaction upon hearing the news was to start drinking. Even as he consults experts and insists on his innocence, he seems to understand that his greatest triumph has been, at the very least, irreparably dulled.

"Unfortunately, I don't think it's ever gonna go away," he said. "From what I've seen in the news and the headlines, it appears that this is a bigger story than winning the Tour. That's gonna be hard to go away. I think there is a good possibility I can clear my name. That's what I want to do. That's my objective now. Regardless of whether that happens or not, I don't know this will ever really go away."

For now, all Landis can do is come home from Europe and see where he stands. Less than a week ago, he was rolling in triumph down the Champs-Elysées. Most people on the continent knew his name. He was celebrated across his home country. Now, he's just hoping to make it back without being recognized.

"I have to figure out a way to get home and get to the airport and stay anonymous," he said.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.