News

Doctors question lab’s findings in Landis case

If Floyd Landis is cleared of charges that he used synthetic testosterone to win the 2006 Tour de France, Monday could go down as the arbitration-hearing version of stage 17. Bolstered by scientific testimony from a pair of defense side experts, the Landis team appeared to poke significant holes in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s allegation that he cheated his way to victory on the Champs-Elysees. Landis had been scheduled to take the stand on the seventh day of this nine-day hearing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, but his turn didn’t come up until late afternoon, and the

By Jason Sumner, VeloNews.com

Landis looked calm and confident

Landis looked calm and confident

Photo: AFP

If Floyd Landis is cleared of charges that he used synthetic testosterone to win the 2006 Tour de France, Monday could go down as the arbitration-hearing version of stage 17. Bolstered by scientific testimony from a pair of defense side experts, the Landis team appeared to poke significant holes in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s allegation that he cheated his way to victory on the Champs-Elysees.

Landis had been scheduled to take the stand on the seventh day of this nine-day hearing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, but his turn didn’t come up until late afternoon, and the three-man arbitration panel opted to postpone his cross examination until Tuesday morning at 9:30.

Based on the number of remaining witnesses and possible rebuttal witnesses, testimony in the proceedings may wrap up soon enough to allow for closing arguments on Wednesday after all. Last week it appeared that wouldn’t be the case, and that the final stage of the hearing would have to be rescheduled.

If Landis is stripped of his title he would be the first Tour de France champion to suffer that fate since the top four finishers of the 1904 Tour were disqualified for cheating. No matter which side this arbitration rules for, it’s possible the hearing in Malibu is just a stopping-off point en route to a final verdict before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

After Monday’s session, Landis looked calm and confident as he strode out of the courtroom and headed back to his hotel. He’s not allowed to comment on the proceedings, but when asked if one could read anything into the broad smile striped across his face, Landis answered, “Yes, you could do that.”

Landis’s father, Paul, shared that sentiment, saying, “I think we’ve had a lot of good days, but today was one of the best.”

Doctors John Amory and Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, the day’s only two witnesses, were the driving force behind all those good feelings. Both came off as qualified and credible during direct questioning from Landis’s legal team, then held up under cross-examination from the USADA side.

Amory said he didn't think the results confirmed that doping occurred

Amory said he didn’t think the results confirmed that doping occurred

Photo: AFP

Much of Amory’s testimony focused on the chart that contains the numerical test results from the eight urine samples Landis gave during the ’06 Tour. In it are readings for testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratios and the four markers considered to determine the presence of synthetic testosterone. Only one of those eight samples (stage 17) resulted in a T/E ratio beyond the allowed 4-to-1 threshold. But both the A and B samples from stage 17, and four additional B samples that were tested in April, produced results indicating the presence of at least one of the four testosterone metabolites.

USADA says that’s proof of doping, but Amory said it just proved the tests carried out at the French anti-doping laboratory were screwed up. There should be a correlation between excessive T/E ratios and the presence of metabolites, he said.

“It doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen in men who have been administered exogenous testosterone,” explained Amory, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who works with testosterone deficient patients. “I don’t think [Landis’s test results] confirm that doping occurred. I can’t say there is a physiological process that would give these results. It’s quite puzzling to me what exactly is going on here.”

Amory wasn’t being paid for his time (40-50 hours, he estimated). And for the last two and a half years, he’s been a member of USADA’s independent anti-doping board, a panel of experts that decides whether there is enough evidence to move forward with individual doping cases. He was recently reappointed for two additional years on the board.

Amory also questioned testosterone’s legitimacy as a performance-enhancing drug for endurance athletes, saying that the kind of micro-dosing pro cyclist Joe Papp described in earlier testimony might allow an athlete to elude detection, but it wouldn’t provide any noticeable benefit.

“There’s no evidence that testosterone plays a role in augmenting endurance,” Amory said, pointing to one scientific study that found testosterone had no more benefit than a placebo and that it did not aid in recovery.

On cross examination, USADA lead council Richard Young tried backing down Amory, wondering if the self-administration of epitestosterone might account for the skewed results where T/E was below the limit, but synthetic testosterone was still detected.

But Amory countered that if Landis had tried to mask his testosterone use, the absolute values of epitestosterone in his system would have been elevated.

“These are very low epitestosterone levels,” said Amory, making the point that masking would have caused a noticeable increase.

Meier-Augenstein, a professor from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, and an expert in IRMS analysis, took a similar tack, calling into question many of the French lab’s findings.

“From what I have seen I would not have great confidence in the results,” the quick-tongued, owlish professor said during direct questioning from Landis lead attorney Maurice Suh. “There are a lot of assumptions being made. I’m terribly sorry, but if someone’s life depends on it, and his career depends on it, you don’t go on assumptions.”

Meier-Augenstein said that based on what he had seen he 'would not have great confidence in the results'

Meier-Augenstein said that based on what he had seen he ‘would not have great confidence in the results’

Photo: AFP

The notion that lab results from tests of stage 17 samples are unreliable is central to Landis’s defense against charges of illicit doping.

USADA’s Young tried to undermine Meier-Augenstein’s testimony, but met with little success.

“I tried to understand how they do it, but I don’t,” Meier-Augenstein said at one point. “I was completely mystified.”

Later Meier-Augenstein grew annoyed with Young’s line of questioning, saying he was, “Trying to compare apples and pears … you can’t compare them. I’m terribly sorry.”

Notes
The blogosphere is full of websites dedicated to the Landis case, and none is better than Trust But Verify (http://trustbut.blogspot.com/). TBV has provided near-live play-by-play coverage throughout the hearing, and has a remarkable breadth of content, analysis, web links and comments.

The ongoing battle of wills between legal teams spilled over to Meier-Augenstein’s travel plans. He was scheduled to fly back to Ireland late Monday afternoon, but when questioning ran long, USADA attorney Matt Barnett had no sympathy for him. Barnett contended that several of the French lab workers who testified last week missed their flights, and that if the same happened to Meier-Augenstein, so be it. The Landis team was so intent on getting the doctor to his plane on time that it cut short its final round of questioning after the panel ruled it couldn’t be finished over the telephone.

Former Mercury team director John Wordin was spotted in the hearing gallery during the morning session. Afterwards he spent 10 minutes chatting with Landis’s parents before heading back to work. Landis rode under Wordin’s direction before heading off to Europe to race for U.S. Postal Service.

The parents of the Tour de France champion, Paul and Arlene Landis, celebrated 35 years of marriage on Sunday, taking advantage of the hearing’s lone off day to visit Catalina Island.

Photo Gallery