After a quiet few years for cycling, Floyd Landis sent shock waves through the sport by claiming that he – and many other top riders, including Lance Armstrong – systematically used banned drugs for years.
“We all believed Floyd during the four years he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs,” Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, told VeloNews.com. “There are a lot of fans of his in our organization. So for him to say that everything he’s been telling us for four years is untrue is a completely different reality.”
Indeed, the cycling community has largely turned on Mr. Landis as a fraud, albeit with a hint of pity for a man many see as angry and volatile. On Thursday, Mr. Armstrong dismissed his claim that the two discussed how to dope and not get caught. Landis, said Armstrong, has changed his story before and is not credible.
So who is this man who has touched off a firestorm with his new claims?
Just four years ago, Landis was a golden boy, coming from behind to win the 2006 Tour de France. After a disastrous Stage 16, he pulled off what was hailed at the time as one of cycling's greatest comebacks: He powered up one of the most grueling stages of the Tour – alone, without the help of a pack – and sailed into Paris as the farm boy from Pennsylvania whom everyone could cheer as a true American hero.
But then it emerged that he had tested positive for synthetic testosterone after Stage 17. He was charged with doping – a charge upheld in arbitration in 2007 and in a 2008 appeal ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He virtually rode his life down to the rims as he fought the charges. He not only lost his Tour title, but also his marriage, his savings, and his credibility.
The cycling community has largely homed in on Landis's deceit and what it sees as a self-serving attempt to bring down other top cyclists with him – perhaps in revenge for being shut out of job and racing opportunities, including this month's Tour of California, which is run by Messick's company.
But renowned antidoping scientist Don Catlin says the most important point is not Landis's claims about others, but the fact that by admitting his own doping he has broken cycling's strict code of silence on the practice.
“To me, the overwhelming issue of importance here is a very well-known senior member of the cycling community with one Tour de France win under his belt decides to come to clean,” he says. “It would be nice if Floyd’s confession could bring new ones.”
Landis has never been afraid to blaze new ground, pressing hard where others may have given up.
He is the son of devout Mennonite parents and hails from Farmersville, Pa., a hamlet of 200. There, some hardy farmers still use a horse and buggy to bring their geraniums and strawberries to the produce auction on Tuesdays and Thursdays. His parents drive a car, but on nice days neighbors see them riding their bikes to church five miles away.
They weren’t always so enthusiastic about cycling. As a kid, Landis circumvented his dad’s disapproval by riding late at night, in secret. That persistence was still there when later in his career, he finished a race on just his rims. Even his disgraced Tour performance, in which he rebounded after a disastrous day, showed an impressive grit that can’t just be chalked up to a stimulant.
But the fierce determination to clear his name at any cost, selling a book that now appears to be fradulent, soliciting donations for his legal fund, and then admitting he was lying the whole time, has disappointed many – not least of all those back home in Pennsylvania.
“What a poor testimony for the Mennonites,” says Edna, a former neighbor who has lived in the area for 50 years and asked that her last name not be used. “But the Bible says the Lord will always forgive if you confess.”
Landis made his confessions in a series of e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors, followed by a telephone interview with ESPN. But Dr. Catlin, who says he believed Landis to be guilty during his appeal hearing in Malibu, Calif., two years ago, seeks a direct apology to the public.
“I knew in my heart that he was lying. I know the case. I knew the lab had the goods,” says Catlin, reached Thursday afternoon at his Anti-Doping Research office in Los Angeles. “I’d like to see him go on television and look into the eyes of the world and say, ‘Yeah, I doped, and this is what I did.'
“Maybe it’s coming tomorrow,” he adds.