Lapse might jeopardize case against Landis

Updated: February 23, 2007, 8:01 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

SOLVANG, Calif. -- More doubts were raised in the doping case against Tour de France winner Floyd Landis on Friday as lawyers from both sides continued to make their arguments before arbitrators in a closed pre-arbitration hearing.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the French laboratory that handled Landis' test results might have allowed improper access to Landis' urine samples, citing records that had been turned over to the cyclist's defense.

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A similar lapse in protocol by the same lab resulted in the dismissal of charges against Spanish cyclist Inigo Landaluze two months ago by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Landaluze also had been accused of doping with testosterone.

The Times, which reviewed the documents, reported it was not clear whether the technicians played enough of a role in the second round of tests to disqualify the findings. Landis' attorneys are seeking to question the two technicians and have filed a request for access to more lab documents and depositions of lab employees.

Landis, who has denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs, told ESPN.com he was buoyed by information he and his lawyers received through a recent discovery order by arbitrators, but he's not optimistic about being cleared to compete anytime soon.

"They [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] seem adamant that they have a case, and they're stubborn enough to go forward with it,'' Landis said Friday. "But at this point, the best scenario for us is that they go forward with their unfounded case and let the rest of the world see it.''

According to the report, two technicians who conducted tests on the first, or "A," urine sample on Landis also played some role in analyzing the second, or "B," sample. The "A" sample allegedly showed an abnormal testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. The "B" sample was tested as confirmation for the initial result. Both samples were subjected to a carbon isotope ratio test that anti-doping officials said revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone.

International lab standards prohibit technicians from working on both tests to prevent the potential conflict of interest that would arise from attempting to validate their original findings.

Landis faces a two-year ban and would be stripped of his Tour de France title if the results are upheld. An arbitration hearing under USADA's auspices is scheduled for May 14 at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif., and Landis has asked that the public and media be allowed access to that hearing.

USADA general counsel Travis Tygart declined to comment on any issues in the ongoing case, citing the agency's rules. "Our mission to protect clean athletes requires that we follow the evidence and only the evidence to get to the truth, and not to be influenced by any external pressures,'' he told ESPN.com.

He added it is the arbitrators' job to evaluate the evidence and -- while reiterating he cannot address the Landis case specifically -- said USADA would not pursue a case if it did not have merit.

Landis' lawyer Maurice Suh said the revelation of evidence apparently resembling that which resulted in the dismissal of the Landaluze case is encouraging, but he stressed that it is only one of many paths the defense team is pursuing.

"We're very optimistic about the way the case is going," Suh told ESPN.com. "But this is one potential error among many errors we've pointed out. We have not elevated this among others. One of the things Floyd wants to prove is fundamental lab error, and having the same operators [of the machinery used for the tests] is only one aspect.

"We identified 59 errors in our most recent pleadings that we believe are violations of international standards for labs."

Based on USADA's actions at a pre-arbitration hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday, Suh said, "They have every intention of pushing forward with the case. Frankly, I don't know what's driving them."

The hearing was scheduled to continue by teleconference Friday afternoon. Landis' lawyers have asked the arbitrators to allow them to interview the two French lab technicians, identified by the Los Angeles Times as Esther Cerpolini and Cynthia Mongongu. The request is unusual but not unprecedented, Suh said. He added that the lawyers want to question the technicians on a variety of issues, not just their participation in both tests.

Within the past two weeks, arbitrators granted a defense request for additional discovery -- access to medical and technical documents related to Landis' case -- that previously had been denied by USADA. The request not only asked for documents but also asked that USADA provide written reasons for any denial of documents.

Suh said he and co-counsel Howard Jacobs have not yet received everything they believe they need to prepare their case. "We're still litigating that,'' he said. Suh added he does not expect any rulings for at least a week.

French anti-doping authorities, who have opened their own investigation on the Landis case, postponed their decision on whether to suspend Landis after he agreed not to race in France this year. However, in separate discovery requests related to that proceeding, Landis' lawyers obtained other information valuable to the case.

Documents received from the French lab indicate the facility did not have an operating manual for the mass spectrometer used in urinalysis and thus might not have adhered to proper specifications for the tests; that it used outdated software; and that a document labeled as "original" in fact had handwritten corrections that did not appear on the "original" copy forwarded by USADA.

The information bolsters the defense's contention that numerous clerical, scientific and technical errors should invalidate Landis' test results, his lawyers and associates said.

In a related move, Landis' defense team confirmed that it is fighting USADA's request to test "B" samples taken at the same time as "A" samples that tested negative at the Tour and in out-of-competition tests the week after. Such testing would violate international anti-doping rules, the team said.

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.