The Landis Connection

The revelation that Floyd Landis tested “positive” for a high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio after his historic stage 17 break-away win is devastating to cycling. Stage 17 was one of the most exciting things ever to happen in The Tour, yet now it will be forever tainted even if the second test comes back clean. This is cycling’s equivalent to the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series. Coincidently, it was a Landis who saved baseball from the scandal: Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

I had planned to write up a post on why doping was much more likely to happen in a sport like cycling than baseball, because the health consequences of the sport itself are so devastating. After all if the relative price of doping is lower in cycling, we’d expect more doping . However, I have found little evidence of the conventional wisdom that elite professional cycling is unhealthy. Much of the “proof” relies on an article in The New Criterion, which states the following.

It is an athletic event that actually harms the athletes’ bodies. (Racers cannot consume enough food to replace the 6,000 or so calories burned off by each day’s stage. Most finish the race with less muscle mass than they began with.) The race’s founder, Henri Desgrange, wanted it to be so tough that there would be only a single finisher. He never got his wish, but the sport he set in motion takes such a savage toll on its riders that studies show that the life expectancy of a professional cyclist is barely more than fifty years.

I can find no confirmation of this anywhere. I suspect professional cycling is not particularly healthy, but if someone knows about some real evidence, please pass it along. Always be wary of what they say.

Anyway, this story is very bizarre. It’s well known that the winning rider of any stage is going to be tested. If he had doped, why bother winning? The returns to being the best American cyclist in The Tour has to be greater than being a disgraced Tour de France winner. Why would he do it? The same argument was made about Rafael Palmeiro, but I think the situation is a bit different. Palmeiro was caught in a random drug screening. Landis knew he would be tested.

Also fishy is the fact that he tested positive for an anabolic steroid. I don’t think steroids are something you take to boost your performance for one day. According to (if you have a better source let me know) all participants are tested prior to the race the tour leader is tested every day. Landis wore the yellow jersey several days before stage 17. Why didn’t any of these other tests come back positive? World Anti-Doping Agency member Dr. Gary Wadler said,

“So something’s missing here. It just doesn’t add up.”

Landis denies the charges and has asked for the back-up sample to be tested. My guess is that it even if it comes back clean, he’ll never shake this. Lance Armstrong has best tested more than any human in the history of sports and yet he still can’t end the rumors. In fact, I think the whole sport of cycling is in for a lot more trouble. I think instant replay ruins football games. Imagine what waiting two weeks to find out who actually won the race will do to the excitement. And to think I get pissed when I can’t cheer or complain because I don’t know if a fumble is really a fumble.

Maybe instead of public humiliation, riders should be given secret fines. I’m talking HEFTY fines, like 110% of the prize money and subsequent endorsement deals. If you want to win and get the glory, that’s great, but that is all you will get. That way the cheater is punished, but at least fans can enjoy the competition.

3 Responses “The Landis Connection”

  1. Steve says:

    There’s several reasons to believe that a cyclist would try to get away with doping. There are masking agents that make it more difficult or impossible to detect banned substances. Athletes take doses that will raise their indicators up to but not exceed the prohibited level for markers. The trick is to see how close you can get to the line without going over, given that body chemistry varies from day to day and person to person. Finally, they can take banned substances for some time before the testing and stop in time to get the markers under the prohibited level (although this effect wouldn’t work for Landis if he was wearing the yellow jersey for several days already).

  2. Mac says:

    From what I understand, Landis didn’t test with a high amount of testosterone but an unusually low amount of epitestosterone. I don’t quite understand how a low amount of something means he’s cheating.

  3. glocke says:

    According to SI, Landis offered the stage win to any of the other breakaway riders who would help him…..maybe he also wanted that rider to get the drug test. But no one could keep up.