Floyd Landis eyes his day in court
Tour de France champion Floyd Landis wants his upcoming doping hearing to be a spectacle filled with big-time surprises and unseemly revelations, one that shines a harsh light on the anti-doping movement and ultimately clears him of wrongdoing.Those prosecuting him are hoping for business as usual – a dry, detailed accounting of the science that led to Landis being accused of using banned synthetic testosterone during the Tour.The public arbitration hearing starts Monday, and the stakes are higher than just the possible two-year ban Landis could face if he loses. He would be the first rider in the Tour’s 104-year history to be stripped of the title, and he says he’ll retire if he loses and can’t get the result overturned in appeals.But the 31-year-old cyclist doesn’t think he’s going to lose. And he wants to use the 10-day hearing to deliver a knockout to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the group underwritten by the federal government and the U.S. Olympic Committee that Landis claims is fundamentally corrupt.”If they lose this, they cease to exist. I don’t see any other way,” Landis said. “It would be no point in them going on.”They’ve made such bold statements about how sure they are that this is the truth that there would be no point in ever accusing anyone again after I demonstrate that I’m innocent.”Despite a positive test for elevated levels of testosterone to epitestosterone after his stirring comeback victory in Stage 17 of last year’s Tour, Landis insists he never has used performance-enhancing drugs.About 20 percent of the cases that have begun with an “adverse” drug test have been thrown out early in the process because of lack of evidence. But USADA does not lose cases when they reach the arbitration stage.
Since being founded by the USOC in 2000, USADA has tried 34 cases in front of a panel of three arbitrators much like the one that will preside over Landis’ hearing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.USADA’s record: 34-0.”I’ve often said I wish the public could be a fly on the wall to see how fairly the process was conceived,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Association who also has served as an arbitrator. “The athletes came in with the experts, articulating where they thought the system was in error. They made their case and then the arbitrators heard evidence of both sides and came to what we believed to be a fair conclusion based on facts.”In the past, hearings had been closed to the public in part to protect athletes from embarrassing revelations. But at Landis’ request, this hearing will be public. Landis wants to use the hearing to expose what he says is the fraudulent way the anti-doping people do business.”The fact is that the people doing the testing, the people accusing the athletes, are far more unethical than the athletes,” Landis said.Landis hired Howard Jacobs, a well-known defense lawyer for athletes fighting doping charges who once accused USADA of using “McCarthy-like tactics” to nab athletes. Landis also brought on attorney Maurice Suh, a specialist in government-fraud cases.Suh’s presence speaks to Landis’ basic strategy – attack the process as much as the science.Some skeptics say going after the process is the typical way accused athletes try to get by on a technicality. Jacobs insists it’s not that simple.”It’s a very complicated test, a very technical test,” Jacobs said. “If you point to five things, for example, that they did wrong in actually analyzing the sample and arbitrators rule that those five things mean the results are unreliable – some might say it’s a technicality. I don’t think it is.”
Since being accused of doping, Landis has created the “Floyd Fairness Fund” Web site, through which he has raised more than $500,000 to help pay for his defense. His friend, former physician Arnie Baker, has prepared a 44-page “Wiki defense” on the Web that points out alleged errors that occurred at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory near Paris.Among the laundry list of faults cited include mislabeled documents, mishandling of the urine specimens and inconsistent interpretations of what, exactly, constitutes a positive drug test.Landis also is angered by the steady flow of media leaks that have come from the French lab, the first of which was the disclosure of his positive test four days after winning the Tour. Since all information is supposed to be confidential, Landis views this leak – and many that came after it – as the moral center of his case.He says it put him on the defensive early and forced him to go on the offensive to regain his reputation. But it has been a one-sided debate, as USADA general counsel Travis Tygart has stayed true to the agency’s rule not to discuss ongoing cases.”It’s been nothing but stuff coming from one side,” said Dick Pound, the outspoken leader of WADA, which sets the international anti-doping code. “It’s designed to cast doubt on whether all this science works. What I know is that we don’t put a test in the field unless we’re all satisfied. No one has any interest whatsoever in having an innocent athlete convicted for doping.”While Landis portrays this as nothing less than a life-or-death examination of the anti-doping system, Pound and those in his circles take a less draconian view.”This is a case,” Wadler said. “It may be a high-profile case, but it is a case. There are many, many, many cases.”Tygart, meanwhile, chafes at Landis’ allegation that USADA, which operates on an annual budget of around $12 million, needs high-profile doping convictions to keep the money flowing from the feds.
“There couldn’t be anything further from the truth,” he said.Much like a court trial, USADA will deliver its case – one that will be heavily steeped in scientific analysis – and call witnesses who then will be subject to cross-examination from the defense. Then, the Landis camp presents its case and witnesses while USADA lawyers cross examine.Pound said most hearings like this are “exceedingly boring.””I don’t know that you get a lot of Perry Mason stuff at these things,” he said.But the Landis people are hoping for some fireworks, and Jacobs says their evidence will go well beyond what already has been made public. Their star witness will be Landis himself, whose public defense began poorly when he bumbled through his reading of a prepared statement in the immediate aftermath.He has cleaned up his presentation, hired lawyers and a public relations expert, Michael Henson, who has traveled with Landis around the country to round up support and money. Much has come from big-time donors. Some more has come from fans who paid $35 each to hear Landis and his entourage give their presentation. Landis’ entire defense is expected to cost about $2 million – another untenable aspect of the process, he says.This has all been part of a whirlwind 10 months for Landis, who also has weathered his father-in-law’s suicide and undergone state-of-the-art hip-replacement surgery in hopes of being ready if he is restored to cycling.Although the case has been a lot of work, he insists it hasn’t been so hard on him because he knows he’s innocent.”I can’t change what this situation is. I can’t change what other people have done,” he said. “We’ve got to make the best of it.”
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