Landis stripped of Tour title; appeal uncertain
Landis: 'I am innocent and we proved I am innocent.'
American Floyd Landis has been formally stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after an arbitration panel ruled against his challenge of a positive doping test result from that year’s edition of the race.
Landis still has the option to appeal the case to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the UCI on Thursday formally awarded the 2006 Tour title to Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, the Caisse d’Epargne rider who finished second. Landis becomes the first Tour winner in more than 100 years to be stripped of his title, and he now faces a two-year suspension from racing and an additional two-year exclusion from ProTour ranks.
“This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere,” Landis said in a statement. “For the panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case, shows that this system is fundamentally flawed.
“I am innocent and we proved I am innocent.”
UCI president Pat McQuaid saw things otherwise.
“He has been found guilty. It proves that the system works no matter who you are,” McQuaid told Reuters via telephone.
The three member panel voted 2-1 to uphold the results of Landis’s positive test, with lead arbitrator Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren in the majority and Christopher Campbell dissenting. Campbell was the lone dissenting vote in the Tyler Hamilton blood doping case, as well.
Readthe Full Text of the Decision
Such panels are composed of three members, one chosen by USADA – in this case McLaren – one chosen by the accused athlete – Campbell – and a chairman picked by the two original arbitrators. The same process is used when selecting members of the appeals panel at the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Read the Full Text of Christopher Campbell’s dissent. Should he opt not to appeal, Landis’s suspension would expire at the end of January in 2009. According to the decision, the panel had the option of suspending Landis from the date of its decision, but “in this case the athlete filed a declaration of voluntary non competition as of 30 January 2007. Therefore, the period of ineligibility will begin on that date and continue until 29 January 2009.”
According to the ProTour ethics code, Landis faces an additional two-year ban from competition in that series. Although the sport’s three grand tours will likely not be a part of the ProTour, the organizers of those races might be disinclined to invite him to participate during that additional two-year period.
The sample Landis provided after his stage-17 victory in the 2006 Tour showed
a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio higher than the 4-to-1 standard outlined in the world anti-doping code. A second and more specific test examined carbon isotope ratios, which officials at the French national anti-doping laboratory said indicated the presence of synthetic testosterone.
The majority of the panel found that while the initial testosterone-epitestosterone test was not “established in accordance with the WADA International Standard for Laboratories,” the more precise and expensive carbon-isotope ratio analysis (IRMS), performed as a follow-up was accurate. As a result, “an anti-doping rule violation is established,” said the majority.
The ruling, however, notes that the laboratory must address the issues that led to the rejection of the T/E result.
“The panel does, however note that the forensic corrections of the lab reflectsloppy practice on its part,” the majority decision noted. “If such practises continue it may well be that in the future an error like this could result in the dismissal of an AAF (Adverse Analytical Finding) finding by the lab.”
The finding means that Landis was cleared of the initial positive T/E violation, but now faces a two-year suspension because the IRMS test did show the presence of exogenous testosterone.
“As has been held in several cases, even where the T-E ratio has been held to be unreliable … the IRMS analysis may still be applied,” the majority wrote. “It has also been held that the IRMS analysis may stand alone as the basis” of a positive test for steroids.
Landis’s case was argued in a public hearing in May, and a ruling had initially been expected prior to this year’s Tour. Landis spokeswoman Pearl Piatt told Agence France Presse that he has not decided whether to press his case before CAS.
“We’re still digesting the report,” she said. “They are still reading the opinion closely and looking at it.”
At one stage, Landis had said the cost of making such a fight might be more than he could afford, although he has maintained his innocence throughout the doping fight. Landis has reportedly spent more than $2 million in his defense, about half of it from his own pocket.
One of his lawyers, Maurice Suh, called the ruling “a miscarriage of justice.”
“The majority panel’s decision is a disappointment, but particularly so because it failed to address the joint impact of the many errors that the AFLD laboratory committed in rendering this false positive,” Suh said.
“To take each of these errors singly is to ignore the total falsity of the result. The majority panel has disregarded the testimony of Mr. Landis’ experts, who are pre-eminent in their respective fields, without analyzing the impact of the errors on the final result.”
Dissenting arbitrator Campbell agreed, noting that “as this case demonstrates, even when an athlete proves there are serious errors in a laboratory’s document package that refute an adverse analytical finding, it will be extremely difficult for an athlete to prevail in these types of proceedings. Therefore, it is imperative that WADA Accredited Laboratories abide by the highest scientific standards.”
Campbell concluded that accused athletes face an uphill battle in efforts to clear their names.
“Because everyone assumes an athlete who is alleged to have tested positive is guilty, it is not fashionable to argue that laboratories should comply with strict rules,” Campbell suggested. “However, if you are going to hold athletes strictly liable with virtually no possibility of overcoming a reported alleged positive test even in the face of substantial and numerous laboratory errors, fairness and human decency dictates that strict rules be applied to laboratories as well. To do otherwise does not ‘safeguard the interest of athletes.'”
“WADA should be writing rules that mandate the highest scientific standards rather than writing rules for a race to the bottom of scientific reliability so convictions can be easily obtained, as this case demonstrates,” Campbell concluded. “Given the plethora of laboratory errors in this case, there was certainly no reliable scientific evidence introduced to find that Mr. Landis committed a doping offence.”
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive officer Travis Tygart disagreed, saying he was quite satisfied with the ruling, saying that “the ruling reconfirms our decision to bring this case in the first place.”
Here, despite the intense pressure applied by Mr. Landis and his high-priced legal and public relations team, we knew that doing what was right required staying the course and fulfilling our duty to clean athletes.” Tygart said. “USADA brought the case against Mr. Landis because, as the independent panel confirmed today, the scientific evidence established that he had committed a doping violation.”
Acknowledging the panel’s decision to negate the results of the initial T/E test, Tygart told VeloNews that since the agency’s creation staff have worked “to ensure a fair and rigorous process that all sides can trust. We obviously have things we need to look at, but in this case, there was ample evidence that the athlete violated the rules and I’m satisfied with the outcome.”
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said the decision to strip Landis of the 2006 title puts an end to a long and painful period in the Tour’s history.
“We have waited a long time, too long. We said since the beginning that we were confident in the laboratory (AFLD) at Châtenay-Malabry,” Prudhomme said. “Now it is proven and confirmed that Landis cheated. As far as the Tour de France is concerned, Landis was no longer the winner after the positive test of the second sample.”
“According to the rules, the second-placed rider (Oscar Pereiro) will be promoted to first place,” he added. “Landis did everything he could in his defense, for which he cannot be reproached. But it is clear that the process has been far too long.”
Following is a chronology of events in the Landis case:
July 19: Landis loses the Tour de France yellow jersey after a disastrous stage 16 in the Alps. He falls more than eight minutes behind leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain.
July 20: Landis relaunches his bid for the Tour de France yellow jersey in spectacular style, winning the 17th stage after a daring raid of 130km. His stage win puts him just 30 seconds behind race leader Pereiro.
July 23: A day after seizing the yellow jersey in the time trial, Landis becomes the third U.S. cyclist to win the Tour de France.
July 27: The UCI announces that an unidentified Tour de France rider has tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Landis prompts speculation when he withdraws from races in Denmark and the Netherlands. Landis’s Phonak team confirms his “A” sample tested positive for an abnormal level of testosterone.
July 27: Landis denies doping in a teleconference with U.S. reporters.
July 31: The New York Times quotes an anonymous source as saying Landis’s “A” sample showed the presence of synthetic testosterone.
August 5: UCI say Landis’s “B” sample confirms the “A” result. Phonak sacks him. Tour de France officials declare they no longer consider him the race champion, although he can’t be stripped of the title until the adjudication process is complete.
August 15: Phonak owner Andy Rihs announces he is disbanding the team.
September 9: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency denies motion by Landis lawyer Howard Jacobs to dismiss the case.
September 29: Landis undergoes hip surgery.
October 12: Landis posts hundreds of pages of technical documents related to his case on his website, along with a presentation by doctor Arnie Baker outlining what Landis’s camp believes are scientific and clerical errors in the testing. The website posting is followed by a series of public appearances drumming up public support and funding for Landis’s defense.
December: USADA requests permission to test Landis’s seven backup samples to “A” samples from the Tour de France that originally tested clean.
January 12: The French anti-doping agency summons Landis but agrees to delay its probe until after Landis’s USADA arbitration is completed.
April: Arbitrators vote 2-1 to allow testing of Landis “B” samples at the French lab that conducted original Tour de France tests. Results may possibly be used as evidence, although they can’t be considered positive results. French sports daily L’Equipe quotes an anonymous source as saying several of the samples showed the presence of synthetic testosterone. The Landis camp claims its observers were denied access to testing and analysis.
May: Nine-day arbitration hearing conducted where Landis and USADA present their case to a three-person arbitration panel.
September 20: Arbitration decision announced, 2-1 against Landis.