Testosterone Test Taints Tour de France Winner

Tour de France champion Floyd Landis has tested positive for high levels of testosterone, according to a statement from his cycling team Phonak. The test was conducted after Landis' remarkable performance in the 17th stage of the race. A new sample will now be tested to try to confirm the first reading.

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DON GONYEA, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. It was just last Sunday that Floyd Landis won the Tour de France, a champion. Today his cycling team Phonak issued a statement saying he has tested positive for high levels of testosterone. The test was reportedly conducted after Landis' comeback victory in the 17th stage of the race. NPR's sports correspondant Tom Goldman joins me now. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Big, exciting news after he succeeded seven-time winner Lance Armstrong. What do we know now about this test?

GOLDMAN: What we know is, as you say, Phonak confirmed that his A sample tested positive for high levels of testosterone. Phonak was told this Wednesday by cycling's international governing body. The test was taken after that epic victory in the Alps, I think that a lot of people will remember, called one of the greatest rides ever in Tour history. He had had a horrible day before and lost eight-plus minutes in the overall competition. And then this ride vaulted him back into contention, and he ultimately won the race.

MONTAGNE: Could Landis' testosterone levels have been naturally higher?

GOLDMAN: Perhaps. Testosterone is a naturally-occurring male hormone. And also, you know, there's speculation if it were synthetic, it might've been used to treat his now famous injured hip. An anti-doping expert I talked to said synthetic testosterone is not the preferred method of doping in cycling, like riders using EPO or blood transfusions and stimulants. That said, it can be used illegally to aid in strength and recovery.

MONTAGNE: So what happens to Landis now? I mean, is there appeal? Does he lose his title?

GOLDMAN: Well, I mentioned the A sample had been confirmed positive. When you do drug testing, they take two samples, an A and a B. Now they have to test the B sample. And if that's also positive, Phonak says it will fire Landis, and then his Tour de France victory could be in jeopardy. This anti-doping expert I spoke to today said it's most unusual, even extraordinary, for a B sample to not be positive after an A sample registers positive.

MONTAGNE: So if this is confirmed, what impact would Landis taking testosterone have on cycling?

GOLDMAN: Oh, huge. Enormous. Can I think of another word? If it's true - I mean, this tour started with a major doping scandal. Several of the top riders were kicked out the day before the race began. They were linked to an ongoing doping scandal in Spain. And Landis' victory helped people kind of forget about that. He was being hailed even by veteran tour watchers as a clean rider who did it on guts and will power. If Landis indeed has tested positive and broken the rules, it'll be an enormous setback for a sport that already is dealing with major image problems.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's sports correspondant Tom Goldman.

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