Landis Scandal Causes Dismay in Cycling

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"This is a tragedy," says Victor Cordero, director of the Tour of Spain, about the latest doping scandal to rock the world of cycling. "When we thought [cycling] had stood up again, this happens. It's like getting smashed on the knees."

What he's referring to, of course, is the positive drug test that has thrown into doubt the inspiring victory last week of American Floyd Landis in the Tour de France. On Thursday the International Cycling Union (ICU) announced that Landis had tested positive for testosterone during the Tour's 17th stage. Landis' team, Phonak, was notified by the ICU that tests performed after that stage, which Landis won after a monumental physical exhibition, showed an "unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone ratio."

Landis is awaiting a counter-analysis of a B sample, in hopes that it will disprove the initial result. But that is unlikely, experts say; second tests almost invariably tend to repeat the first results. If the findings are confirmed, Landis will be stripped of the win and the yellow jersey will go to the runner-up, Spain's Oscar Pereiro.

At a press conference today in Madrid, Landis continued to maintain he did nothing wrong, declaring "conclusively and categorically" that his Tour de France victory was the result of long years of training and "his devotion to cycling," not doping. Yet the damage to his reputation, and that of the sport, may already have been done. "When you work so hard in the race and you manage to bring back the excitement of the sport to the people, it's sad [for this to happen]",says José Miguel Echávarri, director of Pereiro's Caisse D'Epargne team. "If the victory comes to us, it will not be the kind of win we wanted." Pereiro, who describes himself as a friend of Landis, has said that he would prefer that he remain second and Landis' drug test not be confirmed.

The Landis scandal is just the latest blow to a sport that has had more than its share lately. First it was Tyler Hamilton, the Olympic winner in Athens, who suspended in 2005 for using illegal blood transfusions. Then came Roberto Heras, the 2005 Tour of Spain winner who tested positive for EPO (a substance that increases the number of red cells to expand the oxygen-carring capacity of the blood) later and was disqualified and banned for two years. Then Ivan Basso, the Italian who dominated the 2006 Giro de Italia and was expelled, along with two others, from this year's Tour after being implicated in the antidoping operation carried out by Spanish authorities last May. And now Landis.

"There is a lot of hypocrisy in all this", says Echávarri. "It seems like the only problem here is that cycling is the scapegoat for a perfect [sports] world." But the Landis affair may redouble the call for reform, not just in cycling but in all of sports. "Let's focus on the young generations," says Echavarri. "Let's be tough, but educating. Punishing is easy, but let's analyze the roots of what's happening. Even though right now cycling doesn't have much moral power to demand anything, it's still worth it."