Win in doubt

Tour victor's drug test casts shadow

July 28, 2006|By RICK MAESE

FARMERSVILLE, PA — Farmersville, Pa-- --On the day the world learned Floyd Landis tested positive for high testosterone on the way to his Tour de France victory, two signs sat unfettered in front of the cyclist's humble childhood home.

"Yes Floyd," read a yellow one.

And "To God Be the Glory," read a white one.

Bob Lichty noticed the second one and softly shook his head. "They're going to have to take that sign down," said Lichty, who, like Landis' parents, is a Mennonite.

Yesterday's revelation shocked an embattled cycling community, but it was a silent scorn that seemed to wash over his hometown.

Farmersville has a population of just 200, a majority of whom are Mennonites.

They lead a conservative and simple life. Some drive, others still use horse and buggy. Most have telephones, but only a few own televisions.

Cycling officials are testing a second sample of Landis' urine. If that is found to have high levels of testosterone, Landis would likely be stripped of his Tour de France win and dismissed from his cycling team, Phonak. He has been suspended from his team, pending the outcome of the next test.

Word that Landis tested positive from a sample taken July 20, after a critical stage of the tour, spread through Farmersville yesterday by way of mouth.

"There's a right way to do things, and that's the way we all try to do them," said Etta Horst, who has lived across the street from the Landis family for the past 14 years. "We don't know what exactly happened, but I can tell you that we don't believe in drugs. I don't really even believe in competition or things of that nature."

The people here, several of whom weren't overtly supportive of Landis' accomplishments in the first place, aren't as concerned about Landis losing his tour win, and they aren't as concerned about him losing his place on the Phonak cycling team. It's the possibility that he cheated his way to success and celebrity that has left many dumbfounded.

"For these people, something like this goes to a depth that the secular world would have a hard time understanding," said Dwight Roth, who describes himself as a progressive Mennonite.

Roth grew up a few miles outside Farmersville. He now lives in Kansas, where he teaches world religion at Hesston College, a two-year school associated with the Mennonite Church near Wichita Falls. He said that conservative Mennonites tend to de-emphasize the individual because it might take credit away from God. Even before yesterday's news, Landis' pursuits weren't universally celebrated by those in the Mennonite community.

Roth said he isn't surprised that Landis' family would choose to hang a sign glorifying God on their front lawn, right next to the one honoring their son. The idea that someone would cheat in his endeavors goes against everything Mennonites teach their children, he said.

Yesterday, reporters and cameramen bustled throughout the small town.

Children on bikes zipped up and down Farmersville Road, and visitors from neighboring towns came to Farmersville with cameras in tow, just to see where the cyclist grew up.

"If this is all true, the whole area would be so disappointed," said Ray Whitmer, who lives in nearby Lancaster. "That kind of stuff just isn't in the culture around here. Most of the people live somewhat simply; maybe it's a little plain, but they're good people."

And they're also careful not to pass judgment. They went about their day, unaware of all the details surrounding Landis' positive test.

Most seem willing to wait for the final results. Others, those who've known Landis since he first learned to ride a bike, who watched him grow up and then saw him chase his dream out of town more than a decade ago, say they don't need to hear what the second urine sample reveals.

"I cannot believe he'd even think about doing something like this," Jennifer Farrington said yesterday. "He has too much integrity. This just isn't like him."

Farrington and her husband, Mike, own Green Mountain Cyclery in nearby Ephrata, the small store where Landis bought his first mountain bike. The people who visit the store still count him as a close friend, and last Sunday about 75 of them gathered around a television here to watch Landis pedal his way through Paris en route to victory.

"It's a huge swing of emotions for all of us," Jennifer Farrington said yesterday. Like Landis' mother, Arlene, Farrington spoke with the cyclist yesterday and said he was as surprised as anyone else at the test results.

"Just devastated" is how she described him.

The excitement is subtle here. The corn stalks, green with golden tips, stretch all the way to the horizon in some directions. The locusts are all you hear until the clip-clop of a horse and buggy. It might have been a restrictive upbringing, one that Landis didn't always appreciate, but it's one that certainly instills certain qualities in the youth.

"Is there a big drug problem around here?" one local man was jokingly asked.

"Well, some of us like sugar in our tea," he said with a smile.

In a small town where the only thing you really have is what you believe in, the residents' hope and faith in one of their own is being challenged.

The children here grow up with an unyielding work ethic. They know right from wrong. They know the proper path - God's path, they say.

And if it's proved that Landis cheated his way to victory, it's going to take the people of Farmersville a long time to understand how one of their own could've abandoned his childhood values just because he wanted to be the first one across a finish line.

Those who know Landis say it's not in his character. Proof is in the blood, not in some vial of urine in a French lab, likely holding Landis' career as a cyclist in the balance.

They talk about his bloodline, which runs deep in this rural corner of Pennsylvania, an area where values don't just mean something; they mean everything.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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