Monday, May 24, 2010

Floyd Landis

I spent last Saturday at the Tour of California Time Trails, in downtown Los Angeles. Knowing that it would be foolish to try and drive, and park, for the day, I took the subway from North Hollywood to the 7th Street Metro Station and walked to the start line, and despite arriving an hour early, not finding a good spot to see the action. And so, I worked my along the route. As the racers began to ride by, I stopped and watched, and then continued along until I was at the one hill on the course, in downtown. With the riders making two circuits, out and back, I could stand there and watch them climb up, and then speed down. I had hoped that Levi Leipheimer or Dave Zabriskie could make up the needed seconds to move into the lead, but Australian Michael Rogers kept the gold jersey, and would end up winning the Tour. Among those attending the time trails was Floyd Landis.
At the risk of inviting a lot of ridicule, I find Landis' earlier claims of innocence far more credible than his recent confession that he doped during the Tour de France. In the first version of The New Common Sense (For an explanation, see my first post.) I wrote that, while I eventually came to believe Floyd Landis, the issue of his guilt or innocence was of secondary interest to me. What I really found fascinating was how a rider could loose his championship, his team, his income, and his reputation via such a flawed testing system. I'm not writing this to re-argue the case. Anyone with the time and patience can look up all of the evidence supporting Landis' claim that he was unfairly convicted. Just the fact that the testing equipment was running the wrong software, and that the manufacturer was willing to admit that, because of that basic mistake, all tests results were unusable, would have been enough to have Landis' case tossed, if it were held before an American court of law.
As I've read the stories, of how Floyd tried to blackmail Lance Armstrong, threatening to name him as a doper if he wasn't offered a position with Radio Shack, I've now come to believe that Landis is going mad. Yes, I know, a reach from a cycling fan who has never really believed in psychology, but I have to wonder about a man who has lost everything, both professionally and personally, who has done his time, and is still being pushed aside by the sport. Is Floyd Landis telling the truth about Armstrong, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Zabriskie and the others he has named, or is he trying to destroy American cycling, the way American cycling has destroyed him? Basso, Millar, even Ricardo Rico have been able to get on with their post doping careers, while Floyd Landis is shunned, while the teams who are willing to sign him, all seem to suddenly find themselves relegated to the back of the peloton. Is there anyone out there who thinks that the Bahati Foundation Team was less worthy of a spot at the Tour of California than Jelly Belly and Kelly Benefit Systems? I wonder.
No, I'm not defending Landis' behavior, nor am I defending the use of PEDs in sports. I am however, pointing out that it's very easy for old men with no other job qualifications than an exaggerated sense of self importance, to both exploit athletes, and then throw them aside when it suits them. Floyd may or may not have won the Tour de France with the help of a testosterone patch, but if he did, I would suggest that the team owners and event sponsors have as much interest in seeing athletes put in impossible performances as any athlete does. It's time for the Olympics, WADA, and all of the rest, to step aside for a new structure in professional cycling. Cycling needs a separate organization, not dissimilar to NASCAR to set up the events. It needs an ownership group empowered to negotiate contracts and reasonable doping controls, with reasonable penalties. But most of all, cycling needs a true riders union to look out for the best interests of the riders themselves. A union with the power to call a strike and cancel the grand tours, if necessary.

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