STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The head of bicycle racing's international governing body says there is a new winner of last year's Tour de France. It's Oscar Pereiro of Spain. Pereiro finished second to American Floyd Landis. But yesterday, Landis was stripped of his title and given a two-year suspension. An arbitration panel ruled that he used banned drugs during the race in 2006. Landis is the first winner in the more than 100-year history of the Tour to have his victory wiped up by doping offense.
NPR's Tom Goldman has more.
TOM GOLDMAN: The arbitrators' ruling came down four months after they held a public hearing on the case, and more than a year after Floyd Landis tested positive for banned synthetic testosterone. Resolution was a long time coming, but then nothing seemed quick and easy in this case. Soon after his failed drug test, Landis mounted the most aggressive public defense of any accused athlete. He posted hundreds of scientific documents online and held town hall meetings around the country.
And even at the end there still were gray areas in the arbitrators' 2-to-1 verdict. The two who voted guilty said the initial test on Landis' urine sample was not done according to established rules, and the result was thrown out. But a second, more specific test they said, was accurate and proved there was a doping violation.
Still, the two arbitrators criticized the French lab the tested Landis' urine, writing: the panel finds that the practices of the lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes of a positive drug test. If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future an error like this could result in the dismissal of a positive finding by the lab.
Mr. MAURICE SUH (Floyd Landis' Attorney): It's very bitter consolation because the panel is recognizing, by that comment, that really the problems we identified did, in fact, matter.
GOLDMAN: At the public hearing in May, Landis' attorney Maurice Suh built his case around what he said were the labs numerous mistakes in the way the samples were tested, analyzed, even labeled.
Mr. SUH: However the panel seems to be believe that it must sacrifice a few athletes first, and give the laboratory a chance to clean up its act before it will vindicate any athlete's rights.
GOLDMAN: The ruling was vindication for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which prosecuted the case. Agency CEO Travis Tygart called the decision a victory for clean athletes. It was a victory for the agency which now has won all 35 cases its taken before arbitration panels. But Tygart wasn't in a celebratory mood.
Mr. TRAVIS TYGART (CEO, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency): It's really just another sad example, I think, of the crisis of character which plagues some of today's athletes in sport.
GOLDMAN: Regarding the arbitrators concerns about the French lab, Tygart acknowledges he had some of his own.
Mr. TYGART: It's easy to play Mother morning quarterback, and find minor mistakes, an I that should be dotted, a T that should be crossed. And, certainly, things could have been done better, but that in no way, undermines the validity of the test results and the fact that a doping offense had been committed. And if, at any point, during the process we found evidence that, you know, didn't support a doping offense had been committed, we would have closed the case.
GOLDMAN: It's now up to Floyd Landis whether or not he wants to close the case. In a statement, Landis said I am innocent and we've proved I am innocent. He and his lawyers have three weeks to decide if they want to put that to the test by appealing the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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