BOSTON — US cyclist Floyd Landis has reportedly admitted using performance-enhancing drugs after spending four years and more than $2 million to clear his name. He won the 2006 Tour de France, only to have the title revoked on doping charges.
He said that while he didn’t feel guilty about taking drugs since 2002, which he saw as requisite in a tainted profession, he went public now to seek relief from years of deceit. Not even his mother knew until now.
“I want to clear my conscience,” Landis told ESPN.com last night in his first interview on the subject. “I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore.”
Landis implicates Lance Armstrong, others
But Landis’s missives were more than a personal confession, such as those many other dopers have made in recent years. In numerous recent e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors, the existence of which were revealed by the Wall Street Journal, Landis laid out not only his own systematic doping but implicated numerous others in the sport, including Lance Armstrong and the current leader of the Tour of California, Dave Zabriskie. He also implicated Armstrong’s longtime coach, Johan Bruyneel.
Landis says he has no documentation to prove his claims. None of the three have responded to Landis’s accusations, but Armstrong and Bruyneel are expected to speak at a Tour of California press conference scheduled for today.
Landis, whose fight with antidoping officials was one of the most bitter and protracted in recent years, has now offered to provide them with detailed records of his doping regimen, on which he spent up to $90,000 a year, to help them understand how athletes avoid getting caught.
“I don’t feel guilty at all about having doped,” Landis told ESPN.com, admitting he’d used the blood-booster EPO, testosterone, and human growth hormone. “I did what I did because that’s what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don’t do it and I tell people I just don’t want to do that, and I decided to do it.”
Landis: Armstrong helped me learn how to dope
In e-mails reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Landis claimed that Armstrong taught him about how to dope – a subject he said they discussed at length on training rides – and once asked him to safeguard bags of Armstrong’s blood when he went on vacation for several weeks. With old-fashioned blood doping, which is virtually impossible to detect through testing, athletes remove blood from their system and reinject it later to boost their oxygen-carrying capacity.
“He and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test,” Landis said in an April 30 e-mail to the head of US cycling, according to the Journal.
Armstrong, whom doping officials never declared as testing positive for banned drugs, has vociferously denied numerous outside charges that he used the blood booster EPO to win seven consecutive titles at the Tour de France.
French newspaper L’Equipe, whose former employee Pierre Ballester published the book “L.A. Confidential: The secrets of Lance Armstrong,” as well as Paris-based Le Monde, were quick to pick up the story. L’Equipe called Landis, a “faithful lieutenant” of Armstrong’s era of domination. And Le Monde seemed to mock Armstrong by calling him “the big brother.”
Le Monde also noted that Landis had gone after France’s prominent Châtenay-Malabry lab for giving him a false positive in 2006. In February, the paper said, French judge Thomas Cassuto had sought an arrest warrant against Landis, whom he suspected of having tried to hack the information system of the lab.
Landis recognizes that he has little credibility after his own denials, he told ESPN.
Landis still challenges 2006 test
Ironically, Landis says the 2006 test for synthetic testosterone that cost him the Tour de France title was wrong – he had not used that drug that season. He engaged the services of Los Angeles-area attorney Howard Jacobs, a sort of Perry Mason for top-tier athletes accused of doping.
In a lengthy interview with the Monitor shortly after Landis lost his appeal in 2008, Jacobs criticized the global antidoping system as one that ensnared innocent athletes as well as those who had doped. He did not discuss Landis’s case in any detail, but pointed to others, such as skeleton athlete Zach Lund, who returned to the Olympics this year after being kicked out of the 2006 Olympic village for a steroid found in his antibalding treatment. Lund was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time.
The fact that Landis was able to use such a broad range of drugs over four years, together with the travails of athletes such as Lund, has led some top antidoping scientists to conclude the current regime is ineffective.
“I’ve always felt that we put too much emphasis on dirty athletes and too much money into finding the last little molecule of some abstruse drug somewhere,” Dr. Don Catlin, a pioneer of antidoping, told the Monitor in 2008.
As we wrote at the time, he’s been fine-tuning his “Volunteer Program” for the past decade.
It would turn the tables on doping, putting the onus on athletes to prove they’re clean rather than on scientists to prove they’re dirty. Athletes would be tested often, yielding a biological profile. Over time, if testing revealed a spike in values that the athlete could not explain, he or she would be dropped from the program.
“Can we achieve it with what we’re trying to do?” asked Catlin at his Anti-Doping Research outfit in Los Angeles. “I’m not sure, but I hope so. I’ve built my life on it.”