Panel Rules Against Landis
Friday, September 21, 2007
American cyclist Floyd Landis lost his highly publicized and costly doping case yesterday when an American arbitration panel ruled he should forfeit the 2006 Tour de France title because of a positive test for steroids.
The three-person panel voted by a 2 to 1 margin that various errors made by the French lab that analyzed Landis's urine samples were not sufficient to undermine the positive result, providing a grim defeat to Landis even while validating some of the issues raised by Landis's legal team.
Landis, 31, will become the first winner in the 105-year history of the Tour to relinquish the title unless he can win an appeal of the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The panel recommended a two-year ban, retroactive to Jan. 30, 2007. One of his attorneys, Howard Jacobs, said that Landis was weighing his options.
The 84-page opinion and 26-page dissent provided a slim and perhaps unsatisfying victory for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which has won 35 straight cases since coming into existence in 2000 but seemed barely able to overcome some of the flaws in the analysis of the Laboratoire National de D¿pistage et du Dopage, known as LNDD.
"This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere" Landis said in a statement. "For the Panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent."
Even in the majority opinion, arbitrators Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren threw out one of the central charges and criticized the lab for "sloppy practice on its part," adding that "if such practises continue it may well be that in the future an error like this could result in the dismissal of [an alleged positive result] by the Lab."
Arbitrator Christopher Campbell, who wrote a blistering dissent, said: "The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent."
But in the majority opinion, the arbitrators dismissed most of the claims of malfeasance -- at least 39 errors were alleged -- made by Landis's lawyers and at one point criticized two of his medical experts, saying their conclusions were "scientifically totally unacceptable and fundamentally flawed."
They did agree, however, that the lab did not follow World Anti-Doping Agency procedures in finding an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio (known as the T/E test) in Landis's urine during the Tour's demanding Stage 17. (Normal is considered a 1:1 ratio; the French lab found Landis's to be 11:1.)
But the arbitrators ruled that the more sophisticated backup test that was run on the sample was executed properly, rendering the faulty application on the T/E test irrelevant.
"Either charge is enough to support a doping rule violation triggering the application of sanctions upon the Athlete," the panel wrote.
That determination was enough to refute what had been the biggest challenge from an accused athlete to the anti-doping system to date. The arbitrators said they did not rely upon the incendiary testimony of Greg LeMond, who alleged that Landis's business manager tried to intimidate him from testifying at the hearing by revealing details of sexual abuse he had confided to Landis.
Shortly after learning of his positive test in July 2006, Landis hired a team of spokesmen and lawyers and immediately went on a public-relations offensive against the anti-doping system, arguing that he was a victim of flawed lab work.
He posted all of his lab work on a Web site, requested that his arbitration hearing in May be open to the public and raised money for his defense -- estimated at more than $2 million -- through a nonprofit foundation.
"Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition," USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart said in a statement.