An interesting twist in the Landis confession

May 20, 2010

BikeMonkey Guest Post
ESPN is reporting that Floyd Landis, previously a world-level professional cyclist, is now admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs for “most of his career”.
You will perhaps recall that the Landis case has appeared on the DM blog a time or two before.

In a brief fan’s overview for those too lazy to Google, steadily improving journeyman* / domestique Floyd Landis started to show some real prospects as a Big Tour winner with some big performances as a super-domestique in 2004, and an initial foray as team captain in 2005. Landis was showing excellent signs of class in the early 2006 Tour but the usual Tour deal-breaker of a few great performances from competitors and one bad day had Floyd on the ropes. Stage 17 saw Floyd come out and just slay the competition with an all day break to put himself back in the race he would eventually win. It was a great stage to watch. A desperate attack in the early going which was surely doomed to failure. (This is a common rhythm for the bigger bike race stages- one man is usually unable to hold off the peloton until the finish if the teams are determined to catch him.) Yet Landis did. Despite the fact that the main General Classification teams knew he was riding back into and possibly away with the entire race. They couldn’t catch him. Floyd just kept hammering away the kilometers, obviously suffering like a dog and continuing to pour on the power. It was amazing.

He tested positive for testosterone doping in samples collected after that fateful race day. Given that this is a substance to be found in humans anyway, the conviction hinged on analysis of the ratio of carbon isotopes in the detectable testosterone. This ratio analysis indicated the presence of exogenous testosterone- i.e., that not manufactured naturally by Landis’ body.
Allegedly, anyway. Landis fought tooth and nail to overturn the conviction. The reporting from ESPN gives us a little clue as to why a now-admitted long-term doper would have fought so hard in that particular conviction.
He didn’t do it.

HAHAHAHA! Okay, reel yourself back up off the floor and consider this claim from Landis, as reported by ESPN.

As for his own positive test, Landis still maintains that result was inaccurate and that he had not used synthetic testosterone during the 2006 season — although he now admits he used human growth hormone during that time. At this point, he said he does not want to dwell on any of the issues he and his lawyers hammered at during his case.
“There must be some other explanation, whether it was done wrong or I don’t know what,” he said. “You can try to write it however you want — the problem I have with even bothering to argue it is [that] I have used testosterone in the past and I have used it in other Tours, and it’s going to sound kind of foolish to say I didn’t.”

And this is what makes me nervous as a scientist-fan with an unhealthy interest in Teh Dopingz.
There appears, from the outside, to be a lot of voo-doo going on with these doping criteria that hinge on population statistics and what are, at root, very limited numbers of studies. Of course, the doping authorities probably (I hope) have access to a lot of well validated, blinded data from all of the routine drug testing during sport. Although when a case gets dragged into court, it sure doesn’t seem like they do. Okay, I admit I’m highly suspicious about the assays and criteria.
In a case like this…who knows? Landis has a Viking armory of axes to grind. Part of his confession is devoted to naming names. Including the most famous of homeboys from his era who are still on the road- Zabriskie, Leipheimer and, of course, Lance Armstrong. This agenda tempers my ability to believe in the “He’s confessing, why would he lie about this specific detail” theory. But still…It does raise a flag.
I’m left with three hypotheses, assuming Landis is not lying about Stage 17.
1) Someone else added synthetic testosterone to whatever brew Landis was taking and didn’t tell him.
2) HGH (and or whatever else he was taking) has effects which alter the testosterone carbon isotopes in a way that mimics exogenous doping. This one is amenable to testing so I hope the doping scientists get on this.
3) Someone in the analysis chain put a finger on the scale to find false evidence of doping. I really, really, really hope this wasn’t it.

12 Responses to “An interesting twist in the Landis confession”

  1. anonymous Says:

    I’ll bet someone threw something extra-tasty in his cocktail. A doping specialist would have to have blood samples from his 2006 Tour to test your second hypothesis on Landis’ case. Wonder how much they keep around after the initial round of testing.


  2. halophile Says:

    The whole story is sad, of course. To make it worse, that may have been the most exciting Tour de France stage that I’ve ever watched (and I’ve been a huge fan for a long time.) Looking back, it seems unbelievable that Floyd didn’t have some chemical help, but at the time it seemed to harken back to the old days when riders would succeed in daring solo attacks. Armstrong’s Tour wins were almost universally cautious, clinical affairs where Lance was always kept safe by a strong team, so Landis’ win was refreshing. It was a punch in the gut to see Landis caught as a cheater. I remember trying to find the science behind a few of the tests and generally being unimpressed with the few peer-reviewed tests cited by the testing agency. They also seemed to have an amazingly lackadaisical attitude for keeping the integrity of the samples. More than once, an “A” sample has tested positive, and the “B” sample has been mysteriously lost. Hopefully, the testing people and the riders can clean up their act.


  3. bikemonkey Says:

    I know halophile. And the irony was that the 2006 Tour was run in the wake of a bunch of Operación Puerto bannings. It even seemed that there was more variability in the hard stages, with bigger escapes going away and with people being heroic one day and fading the next. Even Landis himself had his one horrible day in the mountains.
    There was a lot of hope on my part that this meant that the doping had been curtailed and we were seeing more natural riding patterns. In some senses it made the Stage 17 ride of Landis more believable. Think of it this way- One (seemingly clean) top rank super star versus either 1) a clean field of regular old domestiques or 2) a field full of doped-up domestiques. The former seems a more likely scenario for heroics does it not?


  4. mrcreosote Says:

    One only has to look at the recent history of winners to see a pattern
    Whilst I have been skeptical in the past, I would say that Lance Armstrong, and Miguel Indurain before him, have been clean, if only for the consistency of their TdF careers. But look at the other winners – Floyd Landis, Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani – all dopers.
    WRT to Lance in particular, one only has to look at Ned Overend in the mountain biking arena to see that freaks of nature do come along from time to time.


  5. Lab Lemming Says:

    In the late 1990’s, I was a moderately intense cyclist with many hard-core friends in the Canberra cycling community. In the years leading up to the Sydney Olympics (2000), the doping agency actually doped volunteers from the community who were highly fit but not actively involved in competition at that time (duh). The scheme was blind from our side (riders didn’t know if they were placebo or dope), but I hear it was part of the development process for the EPO test. I wasn’t doing the minimum km to be eligible (250 km / week, I think it was), but I have friends who participated, and I assume the data for that is around somewhere.
    However, these sorts of studies seem to be exceptional events rather than ongoing projects.


  6. bikemonkey Says:

    Sure mrcreosote, sure. Or, the other hypothesis…


  7. matt Says:

    I’ll give you a number 4 scenario:
    It is obvious something happened after stage 16, and that something was likely blood doping. Of course you are infusing with your own blood so that is not really detectable….however, if that blood you are re-infusing was taken at a time you were on synthetic testosterone then it is possible that you would test positive. It seems like a stupid mistake, but that is the only way any of these guys get caught…stupid mistakes.


  8. ginger Says:

    I have a fifth hypothesis: Floyd Landis may not be the sanest person around, even by professional cycling standards, and might be out of touch with the reality of who’s doping and who’s not – including himself. I mean, there’s nothing that says someone with psychosis can’t have freako-amazing cardiovascular capacity and a deep obsessive love for cycling.


  9. crf Says:

    Some possibilities:
    1) Whoever did the injection, perhaps the team doctor, mixed up Floyd’s injection with another rider’s?
    2) Floyd mis-recalls what his regimen was
    3) The Ben Johnson effect: where you initially deny the use of drugs, then admit it but add a tinge of conspiracy to the process whereby you were caught by a wrong test (Johnson says he didn’t take Stanozolol but Furazabol). Accompany this with claims (which were true in Johnson’s case) that the whole field was all on drugs.

    This is really about the net around Armstrong now, not Floyd Landis.
    1) Armstrong was in a sport where doping of nearly all competitors was prevalent.
    2) Doctors and trainers worked with dirty athletes as well as ones who claim to be clean.
    3) Armstrong either knew, or didn’t know, that doping was prevalent. If he didn’t know, was this due to naivety, stupidity or deliberately not wanting to know, fear, bad advice, lack of initiative?
    If Armstrong knew doping was prevalent, but wanted to be clean, what steps did he take to insure that he, and his team, and cycling in general (he was THE markee cyclist) were clean? Did he insist on his team submitting to regular doping tests by a doctor dedicated to this task only? Did he invite outside expertise like WADA to investigate cycling, or did he fight it or do nothing? Or did Armstrong stand stoicly silent while his sport’s credibility disintegrated, and start taking initiatives (like his blood banking for testing purposes) only when suggestions of his personal involvement in doping came too strident? Or was Armstrong really too weak, too much to stand up to “the man”, too much of lightweight and lacking in initiative to get his sport cleaned up?
    Big names like Armstrong did nothing useful for cycling to prevent it’s collapse. They only started doing anything after this ship crashed and burned. They still act as if they were not on it.


  10. winstrom Says:

    It is not Armstrong’s responsibility to clean up the sport. To put that load on him is based on the presumption that Armstong should stick his nose in other teams’s preparation, etc. By submitting to and passing the prescribed tests, Armstrong gains protection from any PED allegation. His job is to concentrate on his race preparations and to remain (test) clean.
    If the laboratories were corrupt, they would have roasted Armstrong a long time ago, not wait for Landis. They (the French) were sick and tired of Armstrong.
    I don’t see any evidence against Armstrong here that even permits speculation.


  11. daedalu2u Says:

    If you recall the circumstances of the Landis positive test, it was in the middle of the race out of the blue and after a really hard stage. It was in a circumstance where one wouldn’t use testosterone in the first place, where one woulddn’t expect testosterone to provide an edge.
    What someone could have done is put a dab of testosterone on his seat before the race. He would have absorbed enough through his skin for it to be detectable.


  12. crf Says:

    what-o, old thread.
    Looks like Lance, surrounded by smoke for a decade now, really was on fire.
    Who’d have thunk it?


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