Landis' lab result could be flawed

Test records show procedural errors

February 23, 2007|By Michael A. Hiltzik | Michael A. Hiltzik,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The French laboratory that produced incriminating doping results against Tour de France champion Floyd Landis might have allowed improper access to the American cyclist's urine samples, lab documents show - one of a number of errors that could jeopardize the case against Landis.

A similar error, committed by the same French lab in 2005, resulted in the rare dismissal of doping charges against Spanish cyclist Inigo Landaluze in December 2006.

Lab records turned over to Landis' defense lawyers and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times show that two technicians from the French government-owned LNDD lab were involved in the original urine analysis and a second, validating test. International lab standards prohibit technicians from participating in both tests to prevent them from validating their own findings.

It is not clear in the records whether the technicians - Esther Cerpolini and Cynthia Mongongu - played roles significant enough in both tests to disqualify the findings. Landis' attorneys have asked arbitrators to let them question the technicians.

Based on the lab tests of urine samples, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused Landis of doping with testosterone during last summer's grueling French road race.

Much is at stake for both sides in the case. The cyclist, who grew up in Farmersville, Pa., faces a two-year suspension and loss of his Tour title if the doping charge is upheld.

In his aggressive defense, Landis has launched the most serious and sustained attack on the international sports anti-doping program and its procedures since it was established in 2000.

Lab records produced in that legal battle show a number of potentially troublesome procedural problems that could undermine the case against Landis. For example:

The lab may have altered a document in the case after Landis raised questions about its accuracy. It apparently certified the altered version as "original."

The lab may have operated one crucial piece of testing equipment under conditions that violated its manufacturers' specifications, possibly because it didn't own a copy of the operating manual.

The lab possessed documents clearly linking Landis to his sample, a possible violation of anti-doping rules requiring that samples handled by a testing lab be anonymous.

Michael A. Hiltzik writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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