- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

MADRID — Sounding more defiant than the previous day, eyes flashing and voice steady, Floyd Landis looked into the cameras yesterday and said he would prove he “deserved to win” the Tour de France.

In his first public appearance since a urine test showing a testosterone imbalance cast his title into doubt, the American said his body’s natural metabolism — not doping of any kind — caused the result, and that he would soon have the test results to prove it.

“We will explain to the world why this is not a doping case but a natural occurrence,” Landis said from the Spanish capital.

The previous day, in a teleconference from a location in Europe he did not disclose, Landis said he didn’t cheat but had no idea what might have caused his positive test on the Tour’s 17th stage, where he staged his stirring comeback in the Alps.

During that Thursday call, Landis sounded downcast and heartbroken, saying he expected to clear his name but never his reputation. His demeanor was decidedly more fiery yesterday when he sat before a buzzing press conference and lashed out at reporters for characterizing his plight as a drug scandal.

“I would like to make absolutely clear that I am not in any doping process,” said Landis, wearing a baseball cap turned backward and a white shirt with the name of his Phonak team.

Landis is still awaiting results from a backup sample, which would clear him immediately if found to be negative. But his attorney, Luis Sanz, said he fully expected the backup test to come back with the same result, because the testosterone imbalance was produced naturally by Landis’ body.

And the 30-year-old cyclist said yesterday that he would undergo additional testing to prove that “the levels that I’ve had during the Tour and all my career are natural and produced by my own organism.”

Until those tests are conducted, Landis said, “I ask not to be judged, or much less to be sentenced by anyone.”

But Landis saved his most aggressive tone for the defense of his title as Tour de France champion.

“I was the strongest guy. I deserved to win, and I’m proud of it,” he said.

Lance Armstrong said all he knew about Landis’ case was what has been reported.

“But I will say this,” the seven-time Tour de France champion told the Associated Press in a phone interview yesterday. “When Floyd was with us, there was never a problem. We never saw anything even remotely off, never had a reason to suspect anything. He left our team for a better offer. There was no suspicious behavior, none. It’s that simple.

“Secondly, I can’t help but be aware the lab that found this suspicious reading is the same one that was at the center of the ‘L’Equipe affair.’”

The French newspaper, L’Equipe, said samples taken from Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France, and then frozen, tested positive for the blood-booster EPO. The International Cycling Union commissioned a report that later cleared Armstrong of the doping accusations.

“When an independent investigator contacted the lab, they wouldn’t answer the simplest of questions, wouldn’t go into their testing ethics, who did the tests, et cetera, et cetera,” Armstrong said. “I don’t personally have a ton of faith in that lab. I think they should lose their authorization, and the report pretty much supports that.”

Landis appeared to lose any chance of victory during a disastrous 16th stage of the Tour, then broke out with one of the greatest performances in cycling history the next day. After winning the 17th stage, he submitted to a drug test — standard for a stage winner — that showed an “unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone.”

Phonak suspended Landis after the International Cycling Union notified the team Wednesday of the test result. He could be stripped of his title and fired from the team if he does not clear his name.

Landis, a native of Lancaster County, Pa., said he was shocked when told of the initial positive result. He said he had been tested six other times during the Tour, and many other times during the year.

A homecoming parade planned for Landis next week in Ephrata, Pa., has been put on hold pending more test results, organizer Rich Ruoff said yesterday. As many as 10,000 people and 500 cyclists were expected at the event.

The news of Landis’ test has rocked the cycling world, already under a cloud since a wide-ranging doping investigation in Spain that led to the barring of several of the world’s leading cyclists from the Tour.

On the eve of the Tour’s start, nine riders — including pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso — were ousted for being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation. Their names turned up on a list of 56 cyclists who purportedly had contact with a Spanish doctor at the center of the probe. Landis was not implicated in that investigation.

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