Panel Decides Cycling Champ Cheated
Thursday, September 20th 2007, 3:46 pm
By: News On 6
PARIS (AP) _ The decision on Floyd Landis is in. And the panels has decided the 2006 Tour de France champion did cheat. They say Landis 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.
The 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.
If Landis doesn't appeal, he'll be the first person in the 105-year history of the race to lose the title because of a doping offense.
According to documents obtained by AP, the vote was 2-1 to uphold the results, with lead arbitrator Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren in the majority and Christopher Campbell dissenting.
``Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition,'' U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said.
It's a devastating loss for Landis, who steadfastly has insisted that cheating went against everything he was about and said he was merely a pawn in the anti-doping system's all-consuming effort to find cheaters and keep money flowing to its labs and agencies.
Landis didn't hide from the scrutiny and now has been found guilty by the closest thing to a fair trial any accused athlete will get. This comes after the initial positive test, then a guilty finding by a USADA panel, then the long leadup to the arbitration hearing, and now finally, this decision.
Landis has a month to file his appeal. He is still weighing his legal options, according to a statement released by his legal team.
``This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere'' Landis said. ``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.''
Despite the result, it's hard to see this as a total victory for USADA, which prosecuted the case. This was a costly affair for the agency, and it exposed flaws in the system.
In its 84-page 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 ratio analysis (IRMS), performed after a positive T-E test is recorded, was accurate, the arbitrators said, meaning ``an anti-doping rule violation is established.''
``As has been held in several cases, even where the T-E ratio has been held to be unreliable ... the IRMS analysis may still be applied,'' the majority wrote. ``It has also been held that the IRMS analysis may stand alone as the basis'' of a positive test for steroids.
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.
``It's not a great surprise considering how events have evolved,'' Pat McQuaid, leader of cycling's world governing body, told the AP by telephone. ``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.''
McQuaid said Spanish rider Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in the 2006 Tour, would be declared the Tour de France winner, as called for by UCI rules.
``You never want to win a competition like that,'' Pereiro said. ``But after a year and a half of all of this I'm just glad it's over.''
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 opinion, Landis' case should have been one of those cases.
``The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding,'' Campbell wrote. ``Mr. Landis should be found innocent.''
And in at least one respect, Landis, who spent an estimated $2 million on his defense, was exonerated because the panel dismissed the T-E test. But in the arbitration process, a procedural flaw in the first test doesn't negate a positive result in follow-up tests.
In his dissent, Campbell latched onto the T-E ratio test, among other things, as proof that the French lab couldn't be trusted. He said the T-E test is much more simple to run than the IRMS test.
``If the LNDD couldn't get the T-E ratio test right, how can a person have any confidence that LNDD got the much more complicated IRMS test correct?'' he wrote.
It was confusion like this that led to the system receiving the harsh review Landis was hoping for during his nine-day hearing in May.
But Landis also took his share of abuse, 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. 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.
More than the complex, turgid scientific evidence, the May 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, 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.