Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Ups and Downs of Floyd Landis

This year was the first year that I was really interested in the Tour de France. The exploits of Lance Armstrong were always admirable to me, but never that interesting. This year was different.

I started cycling last year. I bike three days a week, usually about 10-15 miles. This year was also the first year of the Tour of California race. The combination of cycling myself and having a major event near my home motivated me to follow the Tour of California. Not only did it come through the Bay Area, but it's two most important stages were in San Jose. This included a time trial just miles from my house. I would have loved to watch the race in person, but I have a job. I still followed it closely. That important time trial was won by Floyd Landis. It gave him a sizeable lead in the race, a lead that he never gave up.

So when the Tour de France came around, I not only followed it, I rooted for Floyd Landis. If you followed the Tour, you know what a tumultous yet glorious event it was for Landis. I could not believe it when he fell from first place to eleventh with just a couple of stages left. I was thrilled when he came back the next day and crushed everyone in the last Alpine stage. I made sure to record the last time trial and rooted him on as he clenched the yellow jersey. It was a lot of fun. It was the kind of thing that cements one as a fan of a sport. My first time following the Tour, the rider I rooted for not only won, but did it in amazing, come-from-behind fashion.

That was last week. Today I was shocked to see that Landis had failed a drug test. I've often said that I don't care if Barry Bonds or whoever uses performance enhancing drugs. Similarly I don't care if Landis (or Lance Armstrong) use them. Still, it was a really bad feeling to read that somebody I had rooted for could have his victory taken away because of a drug test. I can't imagine what it must be like for Landis.

Here's the thing though. I don't think he's guilty. The test indicated a high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. If an athlete is using a steroid, it is easy to beat this particular test by also injecting epitestosterone. In other words, if Landis was really cheating, he should not have been caught like this. Further, it takes a long time for testosterone enhancing drugs to be effective. Thus if Landis was taking some kind of steroid, he would have had to have taken for a long time before the failed test. Otherwise, it would have done him no good. If that was the case, then it would be crazy for him to have not failed an earlier test (he had been tested several times during the race including just two days before, as the race leader is tested after each stage.) I guess he could have been taking steroids for a long time, and just forgot to take his epitestosterone. What other "Landis was cheating" based explanation makes any sense?

So I really don't think he was cheating. If that is the case, that makes this an even worse tragedy. It also shows the many reasons why drug testing is stupid. It certainly leads to the possibility of false accusations and unfairly ruined reputations and careers. And as pointed above, it's easy for "true" cheaters to defeat the testing. Not convinced? Look at the human growth hormone scandal in baseball...

Update: Today it was reported that a mass-spec of Landis's urine revealed synthetic testosterone. Ouch. This story just gets worse and worse...

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