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The Landis case: truth, lies and the impossibility of time travel

There’s the meat, and then there’s the manner. Floyd Landis did not put his best foot forward in his presentation of assertions that many high-level riders and team staff doped or assisted riders to dope in the years 2002-2006. But does that automatically mean his claims are false?

In his now-famous email, Landis begins by admitting that he cheated and lied about it for years, and then moves right along to accuse a number of top professionals — from Lance Armstrong to Johan Bruyneel to George Hincapie — of cheating and lying.

No lawyer would open an argument this way. And in the court of public opinion, it was not an effective way to establish credibility. Nonetheless, the poor presentation does not necessarily mean that all his allegations are false.

Doping has been a reality within the sport for years. Of course not every rider — or arguably even the majority of riders — engages in illegal chemical manipulation, but many pros at the very top of the sport have been caught cheating. This is fact. So is it within the realm of possibility that some people named by Landis have done some of the things he claimed? Sure.

We’re at the point now where we have to ask what is to be done about such claims. As journalists, we go down the well-worn road of asking pointed questions, but the answers are often predictable. I mean really, did anyone expect Armstrong to throw up his hands and say, “Oops! You got me”? As reporters, we dutifully record the reactions — whatever they may be — from the involved parties, and put them on the record.

In investigating criminal actions, sports journalists aren’t equipped like the FBI. We work in words, not wiretaps. Just consider the efficacy of questioning Floyd Landis, version 2006. After his Tour title was thrown out, I joined the throngs of journalists peppering him with questions about whether he doped. That obviously did not prompt an outpouring of the truth.

So that leads us to the authorities, the ruling bodies that govern the sport. If I understand the situation correctly, Landis did not craft his email for public consumption. He addressed it to USA Cycling and the UCI, ostensibly with the intention of prompting an investigation.

The question is what evidence can be uncovered at this point? In writing and in words, Landis has accused several men of cheating, but there is — as Landis concedes — no concrete evidence. There are no pictures, no drugs, no fingerprints. There is no smoking gun.

We cannot magically go back in time to revisit the periods discussed, like Harry Potter or Ebenezer Scrooge, and snoop on riders in their homes and private lives. It is the words of the accuser against the words of the accused.

This is where the authorities must step in. These claims must be investigated, with one of two outcomes — penalties must be leveled, or names must be cleared.

Otherwise, all we are left with is a war of words. And in that war, no one wins.

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