Floyd Landis Launches His Tour de PR

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The embattled winner of the Tour de France goes on a media blitz for his "own dignity" after tests showed unusually high levels of testosterone in his system. He claims there are many possible explanations for the apparently damning doping report. Tom Goldman reports.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is preparing his defense against doping charges. He tested positive for the banned steroid synthetic testosterone. Landis said he did not intentionally take banned substances. And in the past few days, he's embarked on a media campaign to tell his side of the story.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

In one of his many interviews, Floyd Landis was asked, why the media blitz? An attempt to influence public opinion or the officials who will judge his case? No, Landis said, I'm doing it for my own dignity. I have to defend myself. He did so this week on NBC's Tonight Show, where comedian host Jay Leno asked the very serious question that many cycling fans have been asking.

(Soundbite of The Tonight Show)

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, The Tonight Show): Okay. Now what's going on? Because the tests suggest cheating. You know, and I see you on these shows, and I do want to believe you. And evidence seems - I don't know if it's overwhelming - but it seems pretty conclusive, right?

Mr. FLOYD LANDIS (Professional cyclist): If you go by the test, yes.

Mr. LENO: Okay. But why should we not go by test?

GOLDMAN: Because, said Landis, there are a couple of possibilities for the positive results other than intentional doping. He may have ingested something unknowingly, or there was some natural occurrence in his body, or it was the way the tests were carried out. Landis and his lawyers have said the UCI, cycling's governing body, broke its own rules by publicizing Landis's initial positive tests after the Tour de France ended last month.

UCI President Pat McQuaid rebutted the charge.

Mr. PAT MCQUAID (UCI): We did not break any rules. The rules state that we cannot state the name of the rider, and we did not do that.

GOLDMAN: McQuaid says the UCI merely reported a Tour de France rider had tested positive, and the organization did that because it wanted to be transparent and proactive, something that UCI has been criticized for not being in the past. McQuaid says it was Landis's team, Phonak, that revealed the rider's identity. Phonak fired Landis last weekend.

As Floyd Landis floats possible theories, as anti-doping experts assert the testing process was sound, many are left, like Jay Leno, to wonder, the way it's becoming commonplace in sports to wonder how any elite athlete can deny guilt in the face of doping evidence.

Dr. John Hoberman has studied doping in sports for the past 20 years. His recent book is titled Testosterone Dreams. Hoberman says it's entirely possible Landis is telling the truth, but Hoberman also says history is filled with elite athletes for whom taking banned drugs is merely workplace doping, a necessity in order to make a living. So denial, say Hoberman, does not present a major ethical dilemma.

Dr. JOHN HOBERMAN (Author, Testosterone Dreams): They convince themselves that either they're not lying or that these are permissible lies.

GOLDMAN: Many athletes who deny do so to the end, even after being sanctioned. But sometimes there are athletes like Jerome Chiotti. The Frenchmen began racing mountain bikes professionally in 1995, and he won the world championship a year later. But in 2000, he admitted using a cocktail of banned drugs from the start of his pro career. Chiotti hadn't tested positive in over 60 drug tests. After his admission, he handed over his world championship medal to the second place finisher. Chiotti says it became too hard to keep lying.

Mr. JEROME CHIOTTI (Professional cyclist): And I say, yeah, maybe it's a good idea to stop and to tell everybody the truth.

GOLDMAN: Now 34 and retired, Chiotti says he's proud of what he ultimately did. But he says the outcome of his actions speaks volumes for the continuing problems with doping and lying. Chiotti was suspended after his admission and vilified in the cycling world. He says fellow riders, many of whom were doping, figured Chiotti's legacy was this - it's better not to tell the truth.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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