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“What a day!” Those were the first words out of the mouths of many of the sport’s insiders at the stage 6 finish of the Amgen Tour of California in Bakersfield on Thursday. Reporters, riders, team managers and race staff found it hard to believe that several of the race’s top riders — including Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong — were among those that their former teammate Floyd Landis had accused of doping.
Perhaps Landis did want his e-mails to cycling’s anti-doping authorities to remain private, and perhaps he did just want to purge his conscience of denying he ever took performance-enhancing drugs.
There may be serious consequences from his remarks, but his accusations were largely being downplayed in Bakersfield.
At the official post-stage press conference, race officials refused to allow any questions about the doping allegations. Only one such question filtered through when San Jose reporter Elliott Almond asked stage winner Peter Sagan if he was upset that his victory would diminished by the headline news on doping allegations against Armstrong. Sagan didn’t reply after his translator explained that the Slovak didn’t even know about the Landis remarks until told briefly after the stage.
A reporter from the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad said this “crazy day” had started with his editors wanting to print seven pages of stories on the Landis affair in their Friday edition. “This is big news in Belgium,” he said. “It’s not a good thing for the sport.”
Many people gave no credence to Landis’ claims. Cycling coach Dirk Friel, who works with the Saxo Bank and Fly V Australia teams, said that Landis has lost his credibility by taking money to support his appeals against his 2006 doping suspension and then changing his tune and saying he had been cheating for at least five years when he was with the U.S. Postal and Phonak teams.
The Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis went even further in his dismissal of Landis. “What is right, what is wrong about what he says, I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t really have a big interest in it,” Riis told VeloNews. “I don’t think cycling should help because he should take care of himself, and get a life. That should be the most important thing.”
When pointed out that bad news can affect sponsorship of teams or races, even the Tour of California, Riis said, “Yeah, but I think it’s important to know what’s going on today and how cycling is working (with the biological passport). And I think this is what we should have focus on. I think cycling is going in the right direction.
“What happened five years ago, or whenever it was (Landis is talking about), there’s not that much interest in it, you know. I think the most important thing in cycling is it’s working very well today, it’s a good system and it works.
“This is what I also say when we talk to potential sponsors. (Riis is looking for a replacement for Saxo Bank.) This is what they are interested in, and this is what we should be talking about, and not what a guy thinks that everyone else is taking (in regard to doping), or whatever. He should take care of himself. That’s it.”
Back at the press conference, there was no indication that the Landis allegations would affect the status of the Amgen Tour of California. Race director Andrew Messick of AEG said that next year’s event was going ahead, that he was pleased with its calendar slot between the Tour de Romandie and Dauphiné Libéré, and that it would likely remain at eight days long in 2011. “We might go up to 10 or 11 days at some point,” he said.
In any case, everyone realized that the news of the day were the words written by Floyd Landis in his e-mails, and not one more exciting finale in the Tour of California. VeloNews alone gave interviews on the subject to BBC Radio in London, ABC Television’s “Good Morning America,” and CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
The Landis story is not about to die.