American, Swiss lab workers headed to France

Updated: August 3, 2006, 8:16 PM ET
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

Representatives of two internationally renowned doping labs are in Paris to witness the test that will decide whether Tour de France winner Floyd Landis should be stripped of his title and banned from cycling, according to Howard Jacobs, one of Landis' attorneys.

The move, while not unprecedented, is rare enough to illustrate the scrutiny the lab is under while conducting the test. The lab was recently at the center of a controversy involving Lance Armstrong, in which the Texan said lab officials mishandled his frozen urine samples.

Landis tested positive for an abnormally high testosterone ratio in one sample taken after the 17th stage of the tour. But he cannot be punished until a "B" sample, which is identical to the one that was originally tested, confirms the finding. That process began on Thursday, and the results are expected to be known on Saturday.

Under the World Anti-Doping Agency's code, athletes are granted the right to have someone witness the "B" sample testing, and almost all do. But it is unusual for sporting officials to bring in a witness of their own. In this case, scientists at the French lab are being overseen by doping analysts from Los Angeles and Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Los Angeles specialist comes from the Olympic analysis lab run by Don Catlin, who oversaw all the tests done in the BALCO scandals. The Swiss scientist, Marshall Saugy, is the head of the Olympic lab responsible for conducting the blood doping tests that led to a two-year ban for the former lead rider of the Phonak team, Tyler Hamilton.

Saugy is guarding the interests of cycling's governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI). The Los Angeles lab represents the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which would prosecute Landis if the "B" test confirms the testosterone ratio found in the "A" sample.

Landis' own witness is the Spanish doping expert Douwe deBoer. DeBoer's testimony helped another rider, Inigo Landaluze, get his case dismissed last year after he flunked a carbon-isotope test, which is also being run on Landis' urine sample. The UCI has appealed the Landaluze case.

Both Catlin and Travis Tygart, USADAšs general counsel, refused to confirm their roles in Paris, citing confidentiality rules. But Jacobs, an attorney for Landis, told ESPN The Magazine that there have been discussions over what role the observers would play.

"The rules allow them to have an observer, but we don't want this to be testing by committee," Jacobs said. He said he will object if the observers try to get involved in the process.

If Landis is suspended and the case finds its way to a hearing, it seems almost certain that the Chatenay-Malabry lab will be put on trial, too. In June, it played a featured role in a blistering report commissioned by cycling officials about a French newspaper story that accused Armstrong of taking EPO. The report found several problems with the lab's work, including the charge that there was no "chain of custody . . . [or] protection against samples having been spiked."

The difference between the two cases is that the French scientists were doing research on Armstrong's samples -- not enforcing doping standards for an event -- when they stumbled onto their finding. As a result, they weren't following the strict guidelines that are being followed in the Landis case.

Landis has offered several possible reasons for why he might have tested positive, including alcohol consumption and dehydration.

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"