Cyclist Floyd Landis has finally admitted to doping, four years after he was caught red-handed and was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France championship.
But that news is quickly being overshadowed by Landis’s reported accusations against his former teammates, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, and Lance Armstrong.
Except for Armstrong, those names may not be familiar to the general U.S. public, but in cycling these are the royalty of America’s athletes.
To understand what a bombshell this is, imagine a former Yankee accusing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, C.C. Sabathia, and Joba Chamberlain of doping.
You can imagine that it might cause a stir.
The Wall Street Journal broke this story, that Landis sent e-mails to cycling officials coming clean about his extensive use of EPO and other blood doping agents throughout his career, along with accusations that his teammates were also using, and that he saw Armstrong’s blood being kept in a refrigerator, an implication of doping.
All four of those former teammates happen to be racing in the Tour of California right now, and there are a couple of ironies about that.
First, that the Tour of California is doing so well since its debut in 2006 (when Landis won it), it had been moved this year from its February schedule to the cycling prime time — May — so it could compete head-to-head with one of the premier races on the international calendar, the Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia).
For American cycling, this was a huge move, meant to increase this country’s visibility on the world’s stage.
Landis’s accusations, in other words, could not have come at a worse time.
Just as Armstrong, Leipheimer, Hincapie, and Zabriskie (currently in first place) are racing down the Golden State, they will be hounded by reporters for statements about Landis’s e-mails.
There’s another irony. As we’ve pointed out here before, the Tour of California is sponsored by Amgen, the company that INVENTED the blood doping drug EPO. (Actually, they invented the process of cloning erythropoetin, which is a naturally-occuring substance in the human body. It is sold by Amgen and other companies under license with names like Epogen and Epotin.)
Throughout the 1990s EPO abuse in cycling was a scourge. It has become more difficult to dope with EPO now that better tests have been developed to catch it. And it’s to Amgen’s credit that the company now sponsors the California race after, for many years, refusing to even acknowledge that its invention was ruining the sport.
Landis is now admitting to EPO abuse even though he was caught at the 2006 Tour for something else: he had a suspicious ratio of testosterone. For four years, he proclaimed his innocence, but now he not only admits to abusing testosterone, but just about every known doping technique known to man.
So what does this mean for Armstrong and the others? Well, already cycling officials are closing ranks to defend them from Landis’s accusations. Landis, after all, is a proven liar, and it may be extremely difficult to find physical evidence to back up his accusations so many years after the fact.
Armstrong’s critics, meanwhile, will add this to the pile of accusations by other sources — Greg LeMond and Frankie Andreu, for example — that, to them, is convincing, if circumstantial, evidence that America’s greatest cyclist has juiced, even if he’s never been caught with a positive drug test. (Except for that “saddle cream” incident in the 1999 Tour.)
In Europe, cyclists who have finally admitted to doping after being caught tend to be quickly forgiven by the public.
That’s not going to happen in this case. Landis has damned himself not only with the antics involving his attorneys a few years ago, he’s not making any friends by trying to take down his former teammates.
We’ll never forget what may have been the single greatest day’s exploit on a bike on July 20, 2006. But Floyd, at this point, we wish you’d just go away.