Sunday 26 January 2020

Cycling: Armstrong accused of doping - but is it just a case of bad blood?

Lance Armstrong is tended to after crashing during the Tour of California yesterday after dismissing doping allegations from Floyd Landis. Photo: Associated Press
Lance Armstrong is tended to after crashing during the Tour of California yesterday after dismissing doping allegations from Floyd Landis. Photo: Associated Press

Alistair Fotherginton

On one level it was a long-overdue, but nonetheless startling confession: Floyd Landis, the disgraced American cyclist who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after failing doping tests, has decided to come clean, admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

But that news was dwarfed by the accusations he levelled against his former team-mate Lance Armstrong.

In a series of emails which came to light in the 'Wall Street Journal', Landis alleges that for Armstrong too, doping had become so accepted as to have been the subject of casual conversation between the two during training rides.

Landis' admission of his own drugs use is hardly surprising. Despite mounting a $2m campaign to clear his name against his positive test for artificial testosterone in '06, he finally lost his appeal and his Tour title as well as becoming financially destitute.

The sweeping allegations made to the 'Wall Street Journal' concern doping within Armstrong's former team, US Postal, and its supervision by Armstrong's manager Johan Bruyneel.


Until now, the only confessions of doping within US Postal have appeared as isolated cases where the rider acted on his own initiative -- and none of them have involved Armstrong.

Landis' claims, however, allege just the opposite -- that Armstrong, other team-mates, and the manager were all implicated. The doping was, in other words, anything but furtive.

The response from the establishment has been one of surprise that Landis has taken so long to make these accusations -- and that they come after his systematic denial of doping beforehand.

"These are the rantings of a very disturbed man," the president of the International Cycling Union, Pat McQuaid said. "For years he denied doing anything, he wrote a book about it, he had his own website (the Floyd Fairness Fund) all claiming he was innocent.

"Now he claims it's just the opposite. Where's his credibility? And why does he do this during the Tour of California?"

Possibly the most dramatic allegation is Landis' account of how he had two half-litre units of blood extracted before the Tour de France in '03, carried out in Armstrong's apartment. He also claimed that blood bags belonging to himself and Armstrong were kept in the Texan's fridge, and that once, when he was away, Armstrong asked him to ensure the power stayed on.

In yet further allegations made to in a phone interview, Landis claimed he had personally used a whole arsenal of substances: apart from cycling's drug of choice, the blood booster EPO, he took testosterone, HGH, female hormones and even had a one-off experiment with insulin.

The 34-year-old said he had taken the substances whilst racing with US Postal, his first top-flight team, and then with a Swiss squad, Phonak -- with whom he "won" the Tour. His total yearly doping bill, including working with consultants on training techniques and recorded in notebooks Landis has passed onto the authorities, was anything up to $90,000.

Landis is also reported as saying he used increasingly sophisticated doping methods as time went on, starting off with testosterone patches, then moving onto transfusions and EPO, and that Bruyneel was responsible for giving him guidance on their use.

Armstrong refuted Landis' claims yesterday. "It's our word against his word," he said, alongside Bruyneel. "I like our word. We like our credibility. We have nothing to hide. We have nothing to run from. I can give you one word to sum this all up. It's credibility. Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago."

Armstrong also said that while he has taken legal action in past cases where his name has been linked to doping, he's "not going to do that anymore".

Phonak's former boss, Andy Rihs has also rubbished Landis' claims.

Suspicion has swirled around Armstrong for years, though. In 1999, after his first Tour de France win, he was accused of using one substance, but he had a doctor's certificate that fully justified its use. In '05, just days after Armstrong won his seventh Tour, the French sports daily 'L'Equipe' published allegations that EPO had been found in his urine samples taken in 1999. Armstrong denied the accusations, repeatedly pointing out that he had never tested positive.

Landis has never been afraid of doing things his own way. Born into a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania and banned from cycling, he started breaking away from the religion's tough norms when he trained in secret in the dark with a flashlight sellotaped to his bike.

Landis then abandoned the Mennonites and went to live in California, first training as an MTB bike rider, before finally settling on road-racing. In '02, he signed for US Postal as one of America's most gifted all-rounders.

Landis and Armstrong were thought to be close: the Texan even tried to gift Landis a Tour stage win in the Alps. After the two team-mates moved ahead in a small group, Armstrong told Landis he should attack with the words, "ride like you stole something".

After Landis left US Postal in '05, a departure regarded as a betrayal of Armstrong, the relationship between the two Americans quickly cooled.

Landis seemed destined to continue the tradition of American Tour winners after Armstrong, taking the race the following year -- despite being in need of an artificial hip operation because of osteonecrosis, a wasting disease.

Just a few days after the Tour ended, though, Landis found himself in trouble of another kind, with a positive test for artificial testosterone.

Suspended following a two-year legal battle during which he claimed variously that his failed test came from drinking too much Jack Daniels and that the results had been misread, he has since returned to racing with two minor American squads, a shadow of his former self. Landis still maintains that he did not take testosterone during that year's Tour -- although French courts have opened a case to investigate whether Landis' associates hacked into the anti-doping labs computer systems to manipulate the results themselves.

Landis says he has no physical evidence to substantiate his claims, but he has sent the emails to top cycling officials because he wanted the offences to fall within the World Anti-Doping Agency's eight-year limitation on doping offences, and he started doping in June '02.

"If I don't say something now, then it's going to be pointless to ever say it," Landis said. "I want to clear my conscience and I don't want to be part of the problem any more. But I don't feel guilty about having doping. I did what I did because that's what (we) cyclists did."

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