Floyd Landis on Monday denied using performance-enhancing drugs during the 2006 Tour de France and declared he had never used illicit substances in his professional cycling career, saying, “I’m starting to get angry that this question keeps coming up.”
In a telephone interview with The Times, Landis suggested that he had been treated unfairly by laboratory officials and by cycling’s governing body, although he could not yet explain how, or why, his test results from Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour registered irregular testosterone readings.
A follow-up test, according to authorities, indicated that the testosterone in his system was synthetic. As a result, Landis, 30, who lives in Murrieta, could become the first champion in the 103-year history of the Tour to be stripped of his title over doping allegations.
“I don’t know what happened,” Landis said.
Landis has not been charged with a doping-related offense. His case is under review; the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is expected to move against him, however, in about two weeks.
Landis positioned himself to win the 2,267-mile Tour with a stirring breakaway on Stage 17 through the Alps.
The urine sample he gave after that day’s ride tested positive for an irregular ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, officials said. Initial tests revealed a ratio of 11 to 1; anything more than 4 to 1 is outside the rules.
Another test, the “carbon isotope ratio analysis,” identified the testosterone in Landis’ sample as synthetic, the director of the French lab that conducted the analysis said.
Landis said Monday he submitted to eight urine tests and three blood tests during the 2006 Tour. In addition, he submitted beforehand to a routine blood test demanded of all racers in the Tour. Only the Stage 17 samples turned up irregularities.
Assuming a case is filed against him, Landis has the right to a hearing, typically before a domestic arbitration panel, and if a ruling there goes against him, to an appeal before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Such a case could well drag into 2007, if not beyond. If ultimately found liable for a doping violation, Landis would be stripped of his Tour win. He also probably would draw a two-year suspension. His Swiss-based team, Phonak, fired him Saturday for what it called a “positive finding of doping.”
Landis said Monday he expects to take issue with the lab and with cycling’s governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI, alleging that the “unprecedented” manner in which his test results were made public compelled him, amid a worldwide media frenzy, to grab at any explanation, “at anything I could find.”
He said, “There’s no doubt there’s an issue with this lab and the whole testing procedure.”
Among the explanations floated by Landis supporters: dehydration, thyroid medication, even a night of drinking beer and whiskey. None promises to conclusively explain the irregular readings.
Landis started Stage 16 of the Tour in first place. That day, he faltered to 11th. After finishing Stage 16, Landis said Monday, he felt “tired,” “cold,” “completely empty of energy.” The team doctor hooked him up to an intravenous drip that contained saline solution, perhaps glucose -- nothing more, he said.
He acknowledges now that he was, early that evening, emotionally down: “At that point I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to win the Tour,” he said. He and a teammate, Robbie Hunter, walked to a bar, and had a beer, he said.
Dinner followed, “Normal, pasta.” Then someone -- Landis said he can’t recall who -- produced a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Landis said he also doesn’t remember how many shots he had: “I don’t know, three or four shots, maybe.”
After that, Landis said, he went to sleep. The next morning, at a team breakfast, he announced that he intended to attack.
In a diary that ran during the Tour on bicycling.com, Landis’ Colorado physiologist, Allen Lim, wrote of Landis in an entry posted only hours after Stage 17 had concluded.
“This morning he was so angry ... so mad at himself,” Lim’s post read. “He had the music cranked to max as he paced around his tiny hotel room like a wild animal, foraging for his belongings so he could pack his suitcase for the transfer.
“His appetite for redemption was so raw and you could see his thirst for blood as he proclaimed, ‘I’m the strongest guy in the race! And yesterday was crap! I may lose this Tour but it’s going to cost them!’ ...
“He once again proclaimed, ‘I’m the best guy here.... Today, I’m going to win.”
Which Landis did, the stage and the race, only to be informed days later of the test irregularities.
“I had absolutely no reason to expect that was going to happen. I was absolutely unprepared for a shock like that,” Landis said.