Landis Doping Allegations Give Cycling Black Eye

The sport of cycling is reeling after the announcement that Tour de France winner Floyd Landis may have tested positive for high levels of testosterone during the race. A second urine sample from Landis will be tested next week before any conclusions are drawn by cycling officials. Landis says he did nothing wrong.

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For American cyclist Floyd Landis, this week started with the celebration of his exciting come-from-behind victory in the Tour de France; it's ending with Landis trying to save his title and his reputation.

Reports of possible doping by Floyd Landis exploded yesterday. It was announced that one of his drug tests during the tour indicated he may have had a higher-than-legal levels of testosterone in his system.

Landis says he didn't break any rules. But the news of his drug test didn't help a sport that's long been tainted by doping.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

If Floyd Landis thought the grueling, three-week Tour de France was tough, what he's up against now could make those steep mountain climbs look like little speed bumps. He acknowledged as much to reporters who listened to Landis late yesterday on a hastily called teleconference at an undisclosed location in Europe.

Mr. FLOYD LANDIS (2006 Tour de France Winner): I don't know what your position is now, and I wouldn't blame you if it was a bit skeptical because of what cycling has been through in the past and the way other cases have gone.

GOLDMAN: Cycling never has gone through the disqualification of a Tour de France winner because of doping. Now, that possibility exists.

The epic 17th stage of the Tour was the miracle mountain stage where Landis roared back into contention following a horrible performance the day before. But after the 17th stage, a test of Landis' testosterone to epitestosterone ratio, or T/E ratio, came back abnormally high. It's not known what the actual ratio was. The World Anti-Doping Agency allows a ratio of four-times as much testosterone, which can build strength and aid in recovery, than epitestosterone, which is not a performance enhancer. When the ratio is higher than 4 to 1, it's considered a positive result.

If Landis' backup urine sample is positive - and the backup or B-tests often confirm the original - Landis could be stripped of his title.

A spokesman for Landis says the B-test probably won't be completed until next week. Until then, Landis is bracing for the inevitable questions.

Mr. LANDIS: Hopefully in the next few days I can provide you with some experts that can tell you how this was.

GOLDMAN: For some, the answer is easy. Floyd Landis cheated. He put into his body synthetic testosterone, although even skeptics say a blood oxygen boosting doping product like EPO would better explain Landis' dramatic turnaround in stage 17.

Landis denies cheating. Yesterday, he mentioned different variables that can affect the T/E ratio, including the stiff shot of whiskey he downed the night of his disastrous stage 16, the night before his rousing comeback.

Mr. LANDIS: Somehow or another, we ended up with some Jack Daniels there, so I had some of that and then went to sleep. It wasn't in any way an ordinary night before the stage, but in the context of things it was a way to get through the day.

Unidentified Man: Can Jack Daniels cause a positive test?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Landis laughed at the reporter's question, but Landis' personal doctor, Brent Kay, answered this way.

Dr. BRENT KAY (Floyd Landis' Personal Physician): Somebody e-mailed me a scientific article - there's actually five of them - that show that alcohol can cause these changes. But we're in no way suggesting that that's the cause at this point.

GOLDMAN: Kay said there are many variables that can cause changes in the natural levels of testosterone. He also stressed than an increased TE ratio doesn't necessarily mean high levels of testosterone. It could mean normal levels of testosterone and low levels of epitestosterone.

If Floyd Landis' B sample comes back positive, all this will probably be argued in court. Even if Landis is ultimately exonerated, he knows the taint of yesterday's announcement will follow him. Elite cycling polices its drug problem better than most. Several top riders were kicked out of this year's Tour de France before the event even started.

But it's also a sport that can't seem to escape its problem. After more than 2,200 miles of racing, the Tour still ended as it began, awash in scandal.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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