For all the hysteria he has caused in Australian cycling over the past week, you would be forgiven for thinking that Floyd Landis was an evil genius with a dastardly plan to wreck the future of Australian and world cycling.

Following the announcement on Wednesday last week that Landis would attend a conference at the Deakin University in the lead up to the 2010 UCI World Road Racing Cycling Championships in late September, all hell broke out.

Landis will attend the New Pathways for Pro Cycling conference organised by Deakin University. While much of the conference will examine the running sore of doping in cycling and sport generally, the principle aim of the conference is to:

“…bring together cyclists, administrators, academics, scientists, fans and others interested in the future direction of professional cycling to discuss the problems the sport faces as it undergoes changes in the process of its globalisation.”

Announcing Landis’ attendance conference organiser Deakin law lecturer Martin Hardie said that:

“Floyd has asked us if he could take part in the panel discussion and we think his presence will enhance the discussion. The issue we are interested in is how we can build a sustainable basis for cycling in the future — it is clear that the sport cannot continue on in the way it has this year.”

The next day Leo Schlink reported in the Melbourne Herald Sun that the local organising committee for the 2010 World Championships had withdrawn any support for the conference and wanted Landis’ invitation withdrawn:

“Providing Floyd Landis with a soapbox to deliver a tirade like he did on the eve of the Tour of California is not something the world championship organisers want,” event media director David Culbert said. “The official imprimatur of the organising committee has been withdrawn … we believe it is inappropriate to have Floyd Landis attend the world championships, particularly when the federal investigation in the US into his allegation is still on-going.”

Crikey understands that considerable pressure was placed on Deakin University to move the conference away from its Waterfront Campus in central Geelong. Deakin obviously wasn’t going to be cowed by a bit of political pressure and threats to academic freedom and on Friday last week released a statement that said in part:

“The role and reputation of a university is based on its ability to contribute to informed public debate on matters of importance to society. The topic of doping in cycling is such an issue.  We recognise it is a controversial one, and is therefore, worth discussion in itself … Deakin University firmly believes in the value of open, rational and transparent interrogation of all views and perspectives.  We support academic freedom and encourage staff members to comment on matters within their research expertise.”

Over the weekend the SBS program Cycling Central devoted its ‘Bike Shorts’ segment to the Landis issue, with presenter Mike Tomalaris interviewing “expert cycling analyst” Dave McKenzie about Landis’s attendance at the conference.

McKenzie: “I think that he is using it as a bit of a soap box, absolutely. I think he is … everything he is saying … so you know I think he is using it as an excuse to I guess name other riders, or whether or not its make up stories — I don’t know whether we can believe him now.”

Tomalaris played an interview with conference organiser Martin Hardie, who noted that the conference “was not all about Floyd Landis”. Tomalaris asked McKenzie if Landis might have some other motives for his attendance:

McKenzie: “I think it is a good excuse to him, to I guess sort of highlight, I guess what’s happened to him … in a lot of ways I feel sorry for him but don’t try and drag the sport down with him. That’s what I think the people in the sport are saying — certainly from within and I think the fans have spoken as well…”

Landis’ motives for his attendance at the conference should have been clear to Tomalaris and McKenzie well before they went to air on Sunday evening. On Saturday, not long after Tomalaris had interviewed Hardie, Landis released a statement that made his motives for attendance at the conference clear.

“My intention in participating in the conference is simple. By offering an inside perspective of an athlete confronted with decisions regarding the use of banned performance enhancing drugs, I hope to be able to contribute to a better understanding of how those decisions come to be made, and how athletes can be better supported by those in a position to facilitate better decisions and decision making, including owners, sponsors, doctors, directors, riders and fans.”


“I do not wish to use the conference as a ‘soapbox’, nor do I wish ‘hijack’ the world championships. I will not and cannot discuss events or circumstances related to the ongoing investigations and lawsuits involving Lance Armstrong and certain of his current and former business associates and teammates, including what I saw and heard during the relevant time periods.”

Landis’ statement was provided to SBS and Tomalaris immediately after its release.

There is no doubt that Landis is a controversial figure in cycling. He won the 2006 Tour de France but was later stripped of his title because of a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), a decision that he contested long and hard in the courts. Earlier this year he made a number of allegations about the use of PEDs against a number of riders including Lance Armstrong, who is one of the subjects of a wide-ranging investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration.

But whether Landis deserves the excoriation he has been subjected to by some sections of the cycling press, commentators and the sports administrators is another matter.

There is also the very real issue of the value that Landis, as an insider with a unique perspective on what is wrong with cycling, may be able to contribute to fixing that which ails cycling. Hardie says he’s disappointed that some elements in the media have chosen to misrepresent Landis and his purpose in attending the conference:

“It is unfair and untrue to say that Floyd has expressed outrage or wants to get on a soapbox about his concerns,” he said. “All he wants to do is contribute to a free, fair and open debate about the sport that he loves. And I hope that if commentators like Dave McKenzie and Mike Tomalaris are genuine in wanting to see the cancers that affect our sport cured that they will come to conference and join that debate, where their views will be open to challenge and discussion.”

Crikey attempted to contact Tomalaris but in an email response he said: “I suggest you take up the issues regarding Dave McKenzie’s comments on Cycling Central with the head of SBS sport — Ken Shipp as it is not my duty to comment on whether the network stands behind the editorial output made by an analyst commentator.”

Crikey also attempted to contact Dave McKenzie by email and telephone but he did not respond before deadline.