Landis stripped of Tour title for doping, unsure on appeal

Updated: September 21, 2007, 1:34 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

PARIS -- Floyd Landis lost his expensive and explosive doping case Thursday when arbitrators upheld the results of a test that showed the 2006 Tour de France champion used synthetic testosterone to fuel his spectacular comeback victory.

The decision means Landis, who repeatedly has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, must forfeit his Tour de France title and is subject to a two-year ban, retroactive to Jan. 30, 2007. According to hearing documents, the vote was 2-1 to uphold the results, with lead arbitrator Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren in the majority and Christopher Campbell dissenting. The 84-page ruling, handed down nearly four months after a bizarre and bitterly fought hearing, leaves the American with one final way to possibly salvage his title -- an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He has a month to file an appeal.

Speaking from his home in Murrieta, Calif., outside San Diego, an angry Landis sounded as if he were leaning against an appeal and seemed fatalistic about the odds he will ever race professionally again.

"I have to assess whether a system that corrupt is worth subjecting myself to again," Landis told ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford. "I don't have any reason to believe that CAS is any more sincere.

"Money is a large part of it. I have to consider my family when I consider risking everything I have left. It might be like putting all my money in a slot machine."

Of course it hurts. I worked for 15 years to do that. I earned it. To have it taken away in this manner couldn't hurt more.

-- Floyd Landis

Landis, who spent an estimated $2 million on his defense, called the ruling "completely absurd" and said he drew no consolation from the fact that the panel found some of the French lab's procedures wanting. Although he said he was surprised and disappointed by the decision, he added that it confirmed his suspicion that the outcome may have been a foregone conclusion.

"The only way this could have come out any differently is if one of the arbitrators was drunk and checked the wrong box," he said. "There's something going on here other than trying to figure out the science."

Landis said that having his Tour title summarily stripped stung badly despite all the time he has had to prepare mentally for that possibility.

"Of course it hurts," he said. "I worked for 15 years to do that. I earned it. To have it taken away in this manner couldn't hurt more."

The 31-year-old Landis said he feels ambivalent about racing again. "I do want to, but whether I will is a slim chance," he said.

Floyd Landis
AP Photo/Reed SaxonFloyd Landis, seen testifying during an arbitration hearing on doping allegations against him, was banned for two years and stripped of his 2006 Tour de France yellow jersey.
The issue may be nearly moot if he is slapped with an additional 2-year ban from the Pro Tour, which runs the race schedule for elite teams -- although that structure itself has been threatened by the political infighting endemic to the sport.

He also could face a specific ban against competing in France if the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) goes ahead with its own disciplinary proceeding, which it suspended pending the USADA panel's ruling.

"This is not a rewarding thing to be a part of right now," Landis said. "I would advise athletes all over the world to stop giving urine samples until these guys clean up their act."

If Landis decides to appeal and doesn't win, he'll be the first person in the 105-year history of the race to lose the Tour title because of a doping offense. Suh told Ford the Landis camp is "weighing their options" on whether to appeal. If the appeal goes forward, there is no precedent for an athlete having a CAS hearing open to the public. The CAS rules say the hearing must be confidential, but, according to Suh, the rules of the UCI, cycling's world governing body, state an athlete has the right to an open hearing. If Landis appeals, his lawyers say they will argue that the hearing should be open.

The lawyers who represented USADA took an entirely different view of the panel's ruling.

"The majority got the science right," said lead attorney Rich Young of the Colorado Springs office of Holme, Roberts & Owen, which has served as outside counsel in numerous cases brought by USADA. "I wasn't shocked by Mr. Campbell's dissent. We've seen them before."

In its decision, the majority found the initial screening test to measure Landis' testosterone levels -- the testosterone-to-epitestosterone test -- was not done according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules.

But the more precise and expensive carbon-isotope ration analysis (IRMS), performed after a positive T-E test is recorded, was accurate, the arbitrators said, meaning "an anti-doping rule violation is established."

Landis insisted on a public hearing not only to prove his innocence, but to shine a spotlight on USADA and the rules it enforces and also establish a pattern of incompetence at the French lab where his urine was tested.

Although the panel rejected Landis' argument of a "conspiracy" at the Chatenay-Malabry lab, it did find areas of concern. They dealt with chain of command in controlling the urine sample, the way the tests were run on the machine, the way the machine was prepared and the "forensic corrections" done on the lab paperwork.

"... the Panel finds that the practises of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes" of an adverse analytical finding, the decision said.

The majority repeatedly wrote that any mistakes made at the lab were not enough to dismiss the positive test, but also sent a warning.

"If such practises continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal" of a positive finding by the lab.

In Campbell's dissenting opinion, Landis' case should have been one of those cases.

"In many instances, Mr. Landis sustained his burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Campbell wrote. "The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent."

According to Landis co-counsel Howard Jacobs, who has represented numerous athletes accused of dopiong offenses, the criticism of the lab in the ruling is highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

Young and co-counsel Matt Barnett told ESPN.com they were not troubled by the panel's criticism of the French lab, nor are they worried that it could result in a reversal if Landis appeals. They said the errors noted by the arbitrators did not affect the substance of the case, although the mistakes did, in Barnett's words, make it "somewhat messier."

"I really think clean athletes should be encouraged by this ruling," Barnett said. "It means USADA has a commitment to bring these cases even if they're tough cases."

The decision comes more than a year after Landis' stunning comeback in Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour, one that many people said couldn't be done without some kind of outside help. Flying to the lead near the start of a grueling Alpine stage, Landis regained nearly eight minutes against the leader, and went on to win the three-week race.

"Well, all I can say is that justice has been done, and that this is what the UCI felt was correct all along," Pat McQuaid, leader of cycling's world governing body, told The Associated Press by telephone. "We now await and see if he does appeal to CAS.

Well, all I can say is that justice has been done, and that this is what the UCI felt was correct all along ... He got a highly qualified legal team who tried to baffle everybody with science and public relations. And in the end the facts stood up.

UCI president Pat McQuaid

"It's not a great surprise considering how events have evolved. He got a highly qualified legal team who tried to baffle everybody with science and public relations. And in the end the facts stood up."

Spanish rider Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in the 2006 Tour, said he hadn't officially heard the news yet.

"You never want to win a competition like that," he said. "But after a year and a half of all of this I'm just glad it's over."

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said race organizers were confident in the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory's work all along -- and that the process took too long.

"Now it is proven and confirmed that Landis cheated. As far as the Tour de France is concerned, Landis was no longer the winner after the positive test of the second sample," he said. "According to the rules, [Pereiro] will be promoted to first place."

As for the length of the Landis proceedings, Prudhomme said "Landis did everything he could in his defense, for which he cannot be reproached. But it is clear that the process has been far too long."

Landis took his share of abuse throughout the process, and ultimately, USADA still improved to 35-0 in cases it has brought before arbitration panels since it was founded in 2000.

This was a nasty contest waged on both sides, with USADA attorneys going after Landis' character and taking liberties in evidence discovery that wouldn't be permitted in a regular court of law. And Landis accused USADA of using a win-at-all-costs strategy and prosecuting him only to get him to turn on seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, who has long fought doping allegations that have never been proven.

Addressing "problematic behavior on the part of both parties," the panel wrote it would not revisit the conduct of either side.

"They are just part of the litigation war games the parties counsel engaged in between themselves," the decision said.

More than the complex, turgid scientific evidence, the hearing will be remembered for the Greg LeMond brouhaha.

The hearing turned into a soap opera when the former Tour de France winner showed up and told of being sexually abused as a child, confiding that to Landis, then receiving a call from Landis' manager the night before his testimony threatening to disclose LeMond's secret to the world if LeMond showed up.

LeMond not only showed up, but he also claimed Landis had admitted to him that he doped. That was the only aspect of the LeMond testimony the panel cared about.

"The panel concludes that the respondent's comment to Mr. LeMond did not amount to an admission of guilt or doping," the majority wrote.

Barnett said he had "no regrets" about calling LeMond as a witness. "I continue to be impressed by his courage in testifying," the lawyer told ESPN.com. Barnett said he still believes LeMond's account -- and a shady threat made by Landis' then-business manager in an apparent attempt to discourage LeMond from testifying -- provided "corroborating evidence" of Landis' guilt.

This year's Tour began without the official defending champion, and the traditional "No. 1" jersey wasn't handed out when the race began in London. It only got worse as doping allegations and suspicions devastated the 2007 Tour. Three riders, including former overall leader Michael Rasmussen, and two teams were expelled during the three-week race.

At 31, Landis has vowed he hadn't given up on cycling -- he raced in small, nonsanctioned events in Colorado this summer -- even hoping to some day wear the yellow jersey again.

Information from ESPN.com's Bonnie Ford and The Associated Press is included in this report.