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Landis’ Second Sample Has Same Synthetic Result

Times Staff Writer

Floyd Landis, just two weeks ago glorified as the come-from-behind champion of the Tour de France, now faces perhaps the steepest of climbs to keep his title after tests on Saturday affirmed he had irregular testosterone levels and the testosterone was declared synthetic by an analysis an anti-doping official deemed “foolproof.”

In a result that sets off a legal battle likely to be lengthy and ferociously complex, cycling’s governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI, said that tests conducted at a French lab affirmed the “adverse analytical finding” first alluded to on July 26.

Landis now faces the prospect of becoming the first champion in the Tour’s 103-year history to lose the title over doping allegations. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which would prosecute the case expected to be filed in about two weeks against Landis, has yet to lose in dozens of hearings since its inception six years ago.

Landis, 30, who lives in Murrieta, Calif., insisted he is innocent. He said in a statement, “I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone.”

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His chief attorney, Howard Jacobs of Westlake Village, one of the nation’s experts in the litigation of doping-related cases, promised an aggressive defense “in consultation with some of the leading medical and scientific experts.” Jacobs added, “We will prove that Floyd Landis’ victory in the 2006 Tour de France was not aided in any respect by the use of any banned substances.”

The developments Saturday seem sure to significantly sharpen the focus on doping in sports, and particularly on American athletes.

University of Texas professor John Hoberman, an expert on the culture of doping that has for years pervaded cycling, said, “High-performance sport is now paying a terrible price for its extreme ambitions and its willingness to apply scientific methods to achieve super-human results.”

Last week, just days after Landis’ initial test results were released, U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin announced that he had tested positive in April for testosterone. Gatlin is the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, the 2005 world champion and the co-world record holder in the 100-meter dash.

“The penny is finally dropping: American athletes are just as likely as anybody else to do this,” Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said in a telephone interview.

He added, “Let’s recognize it’s an international problem and we have to be part of an international solution.”

For all of three days, until the July 26 disclosure by UCI of irregularities discovered in initial testing, Landis’ Tour victory seemed to have all the makings of a tale for the ages.

Reared in Pennsylvania in a Mennonite family, Landis turned to mountain biking, then road racing. He hooked up with Lance Armstrong’s team and rode on three of Armstrong’s record seven Tour wins, 2002 through 2004. In 2005 Landis switched to Swiss-based Phonak, where he was team captain.

Landis also seemed a study in grit. He had disclosed during the 2006 Tour that he was riding with a degenerative hip condition that would need post-race surgery.

And yet more: The 2006 Tour got underway only after the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the 2005 event, among others, were suspended amid a doping-related inquiry in Spain. Landis was not implicated.

On the morning of July 19, with the Tour in the Alps, Landis wore the yellow jersey of the race’s overall leader. That day, though, he faltered in Stage 16, falling to 11th and seemingly out of the race.

The next day, July 20, however, he broke away, making up most of the time he had lost the day before, rocketing back into third overall and positioning himself to win the three-week event.

After that Stage 17 win, Landis was subjected to routine doping controls. His urine sample was, per regulation, divided into two parts, so-called “A” and “B” samples. Tests on both were performed at a WADA-accredited laboratory outside Paris.

Results on the “A” sample showed what Phonak on July 27 called an “unusual” ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. Both are hormones; both occur naturally in the body.

Synthetically produced testosterone has long been known, however, to help build strength and endurance and to help athletes recover more quickly from significant exertion.

The typical ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is 1:1. Anything over 4:1 is outside the rules.

Landis’ level was 11:1.

Authorities also performed what is called a “carbon isotope ratio analysis” on the “A” sample -- a test that can show whether the testosterone at issue is, in scientific jargon, “endogenous,” meaning natural, or “exogenous,” from outside the body.

That result, first reported July 28 in the French newspaper L’Equipe, showed evidence of synthetic testosterone.

Such evidence can be compelling, so compelling that the defense in this instance almost surely will seek to undermine it, in part by pointing out that, like the testosterone to epitestosterone readings, it is based on the reading of a ratio. In the carbon isotope test, the key is whether an athlete’s reading comes up three deviations, or more, away from a scientific standard.

The head of the French lab, Jacques de Ceaurriz, perhaps anticipating such defense strategy, said Saturday the test found synthetic testosterone and maintained Saturday it is highly reliable.

“It’s foolproof,” he told the Associated Press. “This analysis tells the difference between endogenous and exogenous. No error is possible in isotopic readings.”

Although the “B” sample readings announced Saturday confirmed irregularities, it was not immediately clear if those tests also produced an 11:1 ratio.

Landis, with his doctors and his European lawyers, has offered a variety of explanations for the irregular results: beer and whisky the night of the Stage 16 ride, thyroid medication, dehydration. None promised Saturday to conclusively explain away the irregular results nor the isotope readings.

“We’ve been vilified and borderline ridiculed over the last week for spinning what a number of people are calling implausible defenses,” a Landis spokesman, Michael Henson, said Saturday in a telephone interview. Landis was simply “trying to come terms with all the possibilities here,” Henson said, emphasizing, “He maintains his innocence. He didn’t take any banned substances.... Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll start seeing, through the legal defense, how this all transpired.”

Assuming the filing of a formal doping offense, Landis would have the right to have a case heard in arbitration, typically by a domestic tribunal and, if that ruling went against him, on appeal by a panel of the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If formally found liable of a doping violation, Landis would likely be stripped of the Tour title and issued a two-year suspension.

Some indicated Saturday little patience for the end to that process, a wait that could stretch well into 2007, if not beyond, and sure to be tangled up in fine points of law.

Phonak fired Landis for what it called a “positive finding of doping.” Tour runner-up Oscar Pereiro of Spain said, “Now I consider myself the winner.” And Tour director Christian Prudhomme said, “It goes without saying that for us Floyd Landis is no longer the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.”


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