- Bonnie D. Ford, Enterprise and Olympic Sports
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Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team has struck back at doping allegations made by Floyd Landis, Armstrong's former teammate who this week confessed to having used performance-enhancing substances throughout his career -- including the 2006 Tour de France he won on the road.
The RadioShack team posted a statement on its website and attached a lengthy series of e-mails written by Landis and his personal physician, Dr. Brent Kay, who is also the primary sponsor of his bike team, and sent to Armstrong; Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, whose company owns the ongoing Tour of California; and USA Cycling president Steve Johnson and the federation's lawyer, Steven Hess. The only responses included are Messick's. No correspondence from Armstrong was included in the postings.
The team's statement contends that those e-mails show that Landis' allegations were "a troubling, angry and misplaced effort at retribution for his perceived slights," including the fact that his OUCH-Bahati Foundation team was not invited to the Tour of California. OUCH is Kay's San Diego-area medical practice and the Bahati Foundation, founded by former national criterium champion Rahsaan Bahati, operates cycling programs for inner-city youth.
"Having been refused, Landis later communicated directly with Armstrong and threatened to 'say directly that I'm going to accuse you and our former team mates [sic] of using blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs to help you win the three Tours de France in which we raced together.'
"Armstrong's response to Landis was identical to the responses to the same type of threatening text messages received from Landis two years ago -- that there would be no consideration, money, team positions or anything else given in exchange for not airing false accusations. Getting no satisfaction and not receiving a position on the RadioShack team, Landis then carried through with his threat and provided the press with his false accusations."
Among some of the assertions in the e-mails:
Landis and Kay repeatedly asked and pressured Messick to reverse his decision not to include the OUCH team in the Tour of California. Messick told Landis that the team was not included because of its lack of experience and means for an eight-day stage race. Messick added that the decision was not personal: "We embraced your return to professional cycling last year and promoted your involvement in our race heavily last year."
Landis thanked Messick for "facilitating" a meeting with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, informed Messick he was planning to meet with USADA again and invited Messick to that meeting.
"I did admit to what I've done and offered to help make the testing better with my knowledge," Landis wrote in an April 22 e-mail to Messick and others.
Landis said he was trying to persuade USADA to give amnesty to some of the riders he was implicating with his statements.
When Messick declined to get directly involved in a discussion with USADA, Landis wrote him an angry e-mail, repeating his doping allegations against Armstrong and accusing Messick of being disinterested because the race had a "substantial investment" in Armstrong.
Landis makes reference to alleged threats Armstrong made to Kay and to Bahati, as well as to alleged accusations that Landis had alcohol and psychological problems. Landis also said he was prepared for Armstrong to "serve me with [legal] papers." Armstrong said Thursday he had no plans to sue Landis.
The strangest portion of the correspondence is the one-way messages from Kay to Armstrong.
On May 3, Kay forwarded to Armstrong a lengthy note he had written to Landis on April 28. Kay called the e-mail a "plea" and said being involved in Landis' cycling disputes is "killing [Kay's] family." He suggests that Landis and Armstrong negotiate a deal for Landis to ride with RadioShack -- an idea that could not be further from reality given the current relationship between the two men -- in order to rebuild Landis' image and have him "be compensated as a Tour de France champion." Kay later characterizes Landis as "not wanting anything [monetary] out of this."
On May 5, Kay again wrote to Armstrong, saying, "Once again, I am well aware that cycling will (once again) ruin my life ... if this all blows up" and asserting that he is "on your side as well as Floyd's." Kay told Armstrong he had tried to talk Landis into "limiting his public comments" and also refers to an apparent inquiry by Armstrong into Landis' mental state. The doctor also accuses Messick of sabotaging his plan to get Landis "out of cycling with dignity, respect and a good result from a top-level race" such as the Tour of California. Kay said his original plan was that Landis retire after that race this year. The doctor concludes by inviting Armstrong for a ride near his home.
There are no direct demands for money by Landis in the e-mails that are posted, although he told Messick in one message that he could help raise money for the race if his team was included and in another told Messick the Tour of California should refund $40,000 Kay spent for a VIP booth at the race.
"I must confess there was never a moment where I didn't expect that he was going to leak all this stuff [about doping]," Messick said.
Messick said that the e-mails morphed from the Tour of California to Armstrong "in a fairly serious way." Asked whether he thought giving Landis an invite would have stopped him from talking, Messick replied, "I got the e-mails and I read them and it certainly seemed as though there was tremendous animus toward Lance. And it's hard to see how letting him into our race would do anything to address any personal grievances he has against Lance."
Asked about the e-mail in which Landis said the Tour should refund the $40,000 Kay spent for a VIP tent, Messick responded: "I thought it was massively inappropriate, to put the most positive spin on it. I'm accustomed to teams saying they want to be in a race but this was a first. I've never had someone try to do what he did."
Messick said the e-mails were erratic because he would receive e-mails addressed to other people with a message from Landis that he was not sending copies to anyone else.
Thursday, before a crash forced Armstrong to leave the Tour of California, he told reporters he had heard rumors Landis was going to hold a news conference and received some e-mails from him. Armstrong added that Landis had been sending him texts for years and that at one point they became "annoying." Armstrong said he told Landis to leave him alone.
"It's very sad," Armstrong said. "At one point or another, all of us implicated [in Landis' doping allegations] have cared about Floyd. We might have been on different teams or from different backgrounds in our lives, but at some point or another we shared the bond that we all gave Floyd a ladder. When he dug himself in a hole, we gave him a ladder to dig out of ... now people aren't throwing ladders at him anymore."
In a Twitter exchange with Bicycling Magazine's Joe Lindsey on Friday, Armstrong said he had not responded to Landis' e-mails, at least in writing. Armstrong also denied ever having paid off the head of the UCI, cycling's governing body, to cover up a positive test and pointed out that he had not competed in the race in which Landis alleged Armstrong had a positive test for EPO -- the 2002 Tour of Switzerland. (Armstrong raced in and won the 2001 Tour of Switzerland.)
Armstrong added in one tweet that he has not been contacted by any federal law enforcement authorities but would cooperate if he is.
The public implosion of the relationship between Armstrong and Landis is the latest in a long, convoluted saga of friendship, rivalry and sustained tension. Landis joined the U.S. Postal Service team in 2002 and raced with Armstrong for three seasons, including all three of Armstrong's Tour de France championship teams during that period.
At first, both he and Armstrong portrayed their relationship as a fraternal one. Armstrong played mentor to the wide-eyed but fiercely driven kid who grew up in a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania and on one well-documented occasion chewed him out for drinking too many espressos.
But Landis, convinced he had the talent to become a team leader, chafed increasingly at his support role and began discussing salary matters openly with his teammates.
"Landis felt hemmed-in by Postal," author Daniel Coyle wrote in his 2005 book, "Lance Armstrong's War." "What they wanted were docile horses who didn't ask questions, who didn't rock the boat. That wasn't him. 'They try to tell me it's a privilege to ride for 40 percent less than what other teams offer?' Landis told Coyle. 'That might be fine for other guys, but not for me.'"
By the time Landis jumped ship for Phonak, the rapport between the two men had gone from frayed to shredded. Their feud was on public display at the Tour of Georgia in 2005, days after Armstrong announced he would retire after that year's Tour de France. During the climb of the Brasstown Bald mountain stage in northern Georgia, Armstrong hung on Landis' wheel to try to keep him from chasing Armstrong's then-teammate Tom Danielson and then sprinted by Landis at the finish, looked over his shoulder and pointed at the official race clock.
Yet when Landis' positive test was announced the week after the 2006 Tour, Armstrong was supportive of Landis and did not deviate from that stance until recently. The seven-time Tour winner criticized the French laboratory that had processed the tests -- the same lab that reanalyzed Armstrong's 1999 Tour samples for research purposes at the behest of the World Anti-Doping Agency six years later and declared they showed the presence of EPO, a finding Armstrong has vehemently disputed and experts have argued over ever since.
Immediately before Landis' case was heard by an arbitration panel, he claimed that USADA had offered to reduce his suspension in exchange for information that would incriminate Armstrong.
In August 2009, Armstrong told reporters at his cancer foundation's Global Summit in Dublin that he would not rule out signing Landis to ride for RadioShack and called him "a great rider, a tremendous story." Landis downplayed the possibility, saying he was still under contract to OUCH.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.
Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team has struck back at doping allegations made by Floyd Landis.