After 14 endless months, thousands of pages of mind-numbing laboratory documents in two languages, dozens of fundraising events across the country, nine days of testimony about ion ratios and chromatograms, a 306-page book, two Web sites and more than $1 million in legal expenses, Floyd Landis finally has his answer about whether he is the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.
The answer: He is not.
A three-person arbitration panel ruled 2-1 yesterday that the Murrieta cyclist indeed committed a doping violation by having synthetic testosterone in his body when he dramatically won Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. He becomes the first champion in the race's 105-year history to be stripped of the title for doping, and he has been banned from all sanctioned competition until Jan. 29, 2009.
Murrieta cyclist Floyd Landis called the arbitration panel's ruling “a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere.” He has three weeks to appeal.
“This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere,” Landis said in a statement. “I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent.”
Landis' lead attorney, Maurice Suh, called it “a miscarriage of justice.”
Suh's office had planned a news conference in Los Angeles once the decision was announced. Instead, the arbitration panel's decision was met with only a five-paragraph statement that did not answer whether Landis intends to appeal to the international Court of Arbitration of Sport.
“Mr. Landis now is currently weighing his future legal alternatives in pursuing his case,” the statement said.
Landis has three weeks to file an appeal with the CAS, which serves as a de facto Supreme Court for international sports disputes. Finances could figure large in his decision, considering how much this case has cost him and how much money he might have left. So might the high-profile case's emotional toll on him and his family.
Landis declined an interview request by The San Diego Union-Tribune and other media outlets, but he did speak with ESPN.com.
“I have to assess whether a system that corrupt is worth subjecting myself to again,” he said. “I don't have any reason to believe that CAS is any more sincere. Money is a large part of it. I have to consider my family when I consider risking everything I have left. It might be like putting all my money in a slot machine.”
Just weeks from his 32nd birthday, with a surgically repaired right hip, Landis had said that if he were ultimately found guilty and suspended, he would retire from professional cycling.
Key dates in the doping case of cyclist Floyd Landis:
July 20, 2006: Landis battles back in the Alps to win Stage 17 and set up Tour de France triumph.
July 26, 2006: Phonak team announces that Landis has tested positive for the male sex hormone testosterone. He is fired by the team, which is later disbanded.
Aug. 5, 2006: International Cycling Union announces that the B sample analysis also has tested positive. Landis protests innocence and vows to fight the case.
February 2007: Landis says he will not take part in the 2007 Tour de France to concentrate on fighting the doping charges.
May 2007: Arbitration hearing is held in Malibu to determine his fate on Tour de France charges.
Sept. 20, 2007: Landis' Tour de France title is stripped from him.
It would be a tumultuous end to one of the great stories in the sport's storied history – the son of devout Mennonites from rural Pennsylvania, a decaying hip, an 8-minute deficit after Stage 16 and an otherworldly comeback in the rarefied air of the French Alps. It seemed too good to be true.
In the opinion of two of the three arbitrators, it was.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which charged Landis with a doping violation after his positive test at a French lab, has had 35 cases go to arbitration since its inception in 2000, as the Landis case did last May in a nine-day hearing held at Pepperdine University. Its record: 35-0.
“While there's been a whole lot said about USADA and its motives and its win-loss record, this is a loss for USADA,” Travis Tygart, the organization's CEO, said by phone. “It shows in a real big way that our education and prevention programs weren't able to convince an athlete the value of competing clean. And that's what we're here to do, to celebrate clean sport and inspire athletes to make the right decision.
“If we're not able to do that, we fail.”
The dissenting opinion came from Christopher Campbell, a former Olympic wrestler and the lone American on the panel (the two others are Canadians). But that was widely expected. Campbell is known to be sympathetic to athletes' rights, and this marked the fourth time he has cast the dissenting vote in an arbitration hearing.
“Given the plethora of laboratory errors in this case, there was certainly no reliable scientific evidence introduced to find that Mr. Landis committed a doping offense,” Campbell wrote in a 24-page opinion.
The two other members of the panel – Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren – agreed that the lab erred in the first urine test, which measures whether ratios of muscle-building testosterone are above allowable amounts.
Murrieta's Floyd Landis took the last curve to win Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. His epic comeback in the Alpine stage won him the yellow jersey and later the overall race, but his urine sample came back positive for synthetic testosterone.
“The panel finds that the practices 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 (a positive test),” Brunet and McLaren wrote in their 84-page decision. “Furthermore, the other matters introduced in evidence and referred to in this section do give some cause for concern.”
In another section, they referred to the French lab as “sloppy.”
It was not enough, though, to sway their opinion that Landis' urine was positive for synthetic testosterone in the second test, a more time-consuming and foolproof method using isotope ratio mass spectrometry.
“It was kind of an odd decision in the way they wrote it,” said Howard Jacobs, who has represented numerous athletes in arbitration hearings and was part of the Landis legal team. “They agreed there were all these problems with the lab, and then they excuse them in large part by saying that (World Anti-Doping Agency) labs aren't held to the same standards as other labs.
“It's basically saying that these labs don't have to be as good as other labs.”
Tygart said the USADA took into account allegations about shoddy work by the French lab before pursuing the case.
“Clearly there were some things that could have been and should have been done better, and we knew that from the beginning,” Tygart said. “But our test was always: Does the evidence prove an anti-doping violation?
“We have an obligation to bring forward tough cases even if the evidence isn't as pristine as we'd like it to be. We have that obligation to clean athletes.”
Oscar Pereiro of Spain finished 57 seconds back in the 2006 Tour de France but will now be named its champion.
Spain's Oscar Pereiro now becomes the Tour de France champion 14 months after he rode into Paris in second place behind Landis.
Race director Christian Prudhomme said, “It took that long to confirm what we already knew . . . that he cheated.”
Reaction in the cycling community in San Diego, where Landis moved in 1998 to be coached by Dr. Arnie Baker, ranged from disappointment to resignation.
“I can just say this: He was set up,” said Steve Hegg of Encinitas, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in the individual pursuit. “I'm kind of in shock.
“All the evidence I heard, that I saw, none of the I's were dotted. None of the T's were crossed. If it were a tax return, it would never fly. The whole thing stinks,” Hegg said.
“Floyd was the one (to test positive); that really killed me,” said Encinitas' Paul Huddle, one of the triathlon's most respected coaches. “He is the one guy I wanted to believe. If you read the arbitrator who voted in his favor, there are some issues with that (French) lab. Based on the facts I know, he got a raw deal.”
Said Encinitas' John Howard, a three-time Olympic cyclist: “I think it's a witch hunt. I don't think Landis was guilty of taking synthetic testosterone. I don't think that was true.”
John Duke, the publisher of Encinitas-based Triathlete magazine, said there may be some good to Landis' case winding down.
“I don't want to be a contrarian, but I am a doubting Thomas,” Duke said. “But this may conclude a long, sad chapter in the sport of cycling. I wish it would close. The sooner it closes, the sooner cycling can heal.”
Staff writer Don Norcross contributed to this report.