Six weeks from the start of Tour de France 2007, cycling is still gripped by the tumultuous 2006 event, when over-the-line winner Floyd Landis was stripped of the title after returning elevated testosterone levels in drug tests following a Tour-winning comeback in stage 17.
It was a dark but fitting end to an event that was haunted by the spectre of doping from before it began, when possibly the largest doping scandal in the history of sport played out in Spain, implicating the two biggest names in cycling — Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich — who withdrew before slipping on the skin-tights and taking to the streets of Paris.
Last week it plumbed new depths of sleaze, triggered by an appearance at the arbitration into Landis’s guilt or innocence by three time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.
In a private phone conversation with Landis in August last year, LeMond urged Landis to confess if his backup sample B came back positive, which would help “salvage” the sport and, as a bonus, unburden his own conscience. The International Herald Tribune reports:
He then said he told Landis how destructive it was to keep a trauma secret. Specifically, he continued, he described his pain in keeping it secret that he was sexually abused by a friend of his father’s when he was 10 or 11 years old and living with his family in Nevada.
“It nearly destroyed me by keeping the secret,” LeMond said. He said he told Landis that very few people knew that about him.
That admission was used against Lemond in an apparent blackmail attempt by Landis’s manager, who in a phone call impersonated Lemond’s abuser in a bid to scare him into censoring his testimony. “I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie,” he is reported as saying. This is in the context of a previous threat Landis had made to Lemond if he decided to speak out on his case.
Meanwhile, Armstrong continues to support Landis in his quest to prove his innocence. Armstrong is skeptical of the same French lab which in 2005 retrospectively found his 1999 urine B samples positive for EPO. If Landis is found to have doped, he will be the third ex-teammate of Armstrong to have been sanctioned (not including his one time rival Basso).
When the arbitration hearing reconvenes this week, Landis will be cross-examined, a process that is expected to be as awkward for the disgraced cyclist as Lemond’s testimony, and the views of Don Don Catlin, the former director of the Olympic testing lab at UCLA. When asked if Landis had doped during last year’s race, Catlin replied: “There’s no question about it.”
If Landis loses the case, he can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, his final hope for vindication. The Tour de France begins on 1 July.