Landis loses doping appeal

Arbitrators uphold positive test from 2006 Tour de France

September 21, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

Between his Mennonite upbringing in Pennsylvania and his late-stage rally to win the Tour de France, Floyd Landis briefly became one of the sparkling sports stories of 2006.

But a positive test for synthetic testosterone dimmed his triumph. Landis' fierce efforts to clear his name were derailed yesterday when an arbitration panel upheld that result, leaving the American cycling star facing a two-year suspension and the loss of his Tour de France championship.

Landis has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and he engaged in a contentious hearing with American doping officials this year in hopes of overturning the test result from the 2006 Tour. The arbitration panel considered testimony from that hearing for almost four months before voting 2-1 to uphold the test.

"Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition," United States Anti-Doping Agency general counsel Travis Tygart told the Associated Press.

Landis did not back away from his harsh criticism of doping officials.

"This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere," he said in a statement released by his attorneys. "For the panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case, shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent."

Landis has a month to file a final appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), an international arbitration agency based in Lausanne, Switzerland, that hears doping and contract disputes in Olympic and other multinational sports.

In its 23 years of existence, CAS has not blindly backed the decisions of doping officials. In 1996, it overturned an International Olympic Committee decision to strip two Russian athletes of medals because they tested positive for the stimulant bromantan. Two years later, CAS restored a gold medal to Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who had tested positive for marijuana at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Both of those cases involved questions of whether the substances were actually banned.

Such questions don't exist around synthetic testosterone, though many cycling experts doubt that the muscle-building substance could have helped Landis stage his remarkable comeback.

In other types of cases, CAS has reduced the lengths of suspensions. If Landis appeals and loses, he would be the first rider in the Tour de France's 105-year-history to forfeit his title because of a failed drug test. Spanish rider Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis, would be the 2006 Tour winner.

The ferocity and tenacity of Landis' appeals, both formal and on public venues such as NBC's Tonight Show, have made an impression on John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas and longtime student of sports doping.

"It's been one of a kind," he said of the case. "But from what I've seen and what I've learned about professional cycling, his protests don't mean as much to me [as] what they once might have. There is a lot of lying, and in my experience, these guys don't feel guilty about what they've done."

Hoberman said tests aren't infallible, "but in my opinion, most are very reliable."

Landis' failed appeal comes at a time when cheating accusations have shaken the underpinnings of America's and the world's favorite sports. The NFL's most decorated coach, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, was punished for illicitly videotaping opponents' signals. A wave of baseball players, including Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons, stand accused of ordering human growth hormone from an Internet pharmacy ring. Last month, NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to federal charges that he bet on games he had worked.

On the international stage, Formula One auto racing team McLaren was fined $100 million and stripped of its manufacturer's points for this season after hundreds of pages of technical information about rival Ferrari's car were found in the possession of a top McLaren official.

Cycling fans are more used to cheating scandals than most. The sport has faced doping scandals since British rider Tom Simpson collapsed and died after taking amphetamines during the 1967 Tour de France. This year's race was more damaged than ever as two teams, including that of pre-race favorite Alexander Vinokourov, pulled out after failed tests. After Stage 16, Tour leader Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race by his Rabobank team for allegedly lying about missed drug tests.

"It's a sport that's shown itself to be rotten through and through," Hoberman said. "That brings up a very interesting and difficult question about how you bring about a rebirth in an entire sporting culture."

Cycling officials have stood behind the tests that have caught riders such as Landis.

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