- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

LONDON — Floyd Landis’ Tour de France victory was thrown into question yesterday when his team said he tested positive for high testosterone levels during stage 17, when the American champion began his stunning comeback with a charge into the Alps.

The Phonak team suspended Landis, pending results of the backup “B” sample of his drug test. If Landis is found guilty, he could be stripped of the Tour title and fired from the team.

Landis denied that he cheated but said his career will forever be stained by the failed drug test in cycling’s premier event.

“I think there’s a good possibility I’ll clear my name,” Landis said. “Regardless of whether this happens or not, I don’t know if this will ever go away.”

Landis said he wouldn’t be surprised if people were skeptical of him and the sport of cycling, but he pleaded for time to clear his name.

“All I’m asking for is that I be given a chance to prove that I’m innocent,” he said. “Cycling has a traditional way of trying people in the court of public opinion before they get a chance to do anything else.

“I would like to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, since that’s the way we do things in America.”

Second-place finisher Oscar Pereiro of Spain would become champion if Landis is not cleared.

“Should I win the Tour now, it would feel like an academic victory,” Pereiro said. “The way to celebrate a win is in Paris. Otherwise, it’s just a bureaucratic win.”

The Swiss-based Phonak team said it was notified by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Wednesday that Landis’ sample showed an “unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone” when he was tested after stage 17 on July 20.

“My immediate reaction was to look for the alcohol bottle,” joked Landis, who is known to enjoy a beer on the Tour and said he drank whiskey with teammates to bury their sorrows after Landis nearly fell out of contention the day before his stage 17 charge.

The 30-year-old Landis made a dramatic comeback in that Alpine stage, racing far ahead of the field for a solo win that moved him from 11th to third in the overall standings. Despite a degenerative hip condition that will require surgery, he regained the leader’s yellow jersey two days later.

Phonak said Landis would ask for an analysis of his backup sample to “prove either that this result is coming from a natural process or that this is resulting from a mistake.”

It wasn’t known when the backup sample would be tested, but Phonak manager John Lelangue said the team would ask for that to happen in the next few days. Arlene Landis said it could take two weeks for the results of her son’s backup test to be made public.

“Why couldn’t they take care of this before they pronounced him the winner?” she said from her home in Farmersville, Pa. “Lance [Armstrong] went through this, too. Somebody doesn’t want him to win. Why do they put you through two weeks of misery and spoil your crown?

“My opinion is when he comes on top of this, everyone will think so much more of him. So that’s what valleys are for, right?”

If the second sample confirms the initial finding, Phonak said, Landis will be fired.

“It is obviously distressing,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said at a Paris press conference, stressing that the backup test still must be performed. Mr. Prudhomme said it would be up to the UCI to determine penalties if Landis is found guilty of doping.

Testosterone creams, pills and injections can build muscle and strength and improve recovery time after exertion when used over several weeks. Testosterone is included as an anabolic steroid by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on its list of banned substances. The use of supplements can be punished by a two-year ban.

Under the agency’s regulations, a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone greater than 4-to-1 is considered a positive result and subject to investigation. The most likely natural ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in humans is 1-to-1.

However, if Landis had been a user, his earlier urine tests during the Tour would have been affected, too, said Dr. Gary Wadler, a WADA member and a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. The stage 17 test was the first reported abnormal result.

One-time use of steroids could result in an abnormal test, but it would have no effect on performance and could not account for Landis’ astounding feat in that stage.

“So something’s missing here,” Dr. Wadler said. “It just doesn’t add up.”

Asked repeatedly what might have caused his positive test, Landis refused to lay blame on anything in particular.

“As to what actually caused it on that particular day, I can only speculate,” he said.

However, Landis suggested in a story posted on Sports Illustrated’s Web site that a small amount of hormone he has been taking for a thyroid condition or the cortisone shots he gets for hip pain could have skewed the result. Doctors, however, said the cortisone would not affect his test results.

Landis wrapped up his Tour de France win on Sunday, keeping the title in U.S. hands for the eighth straight year. Armstrong, long dogged by doping whispers and accusations, won the previous seven.

On the eve of the Tour’s start, nine riders, including pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were ousted, implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

WADA chief Dick Pound, speaking before Landis was confirmed as the rider with the positive test, said it was amazing that any cyclist would risk doping after the scandals that rocked the Tour before the start.

“Despite all the fuss prior to the race with all these riders identified and withdrawn, you still have people in that race quite willing and prepared to cheat,” Mr. Pound said from Montreal. “That’s a problem for cycling.”

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