BRUSSELS -- There are 198 riders in this daytime drama known as the Tour de France, but the nastiest one Lance Armstrong faces isn't even riding.
He's Floyd Landis, Armstrong's ex-teammate on his 2002-2004 Postal Service teams who helped him win three of his seven Tour de France titles. Landis has made some of the most startling and powerful charges ever against Armstrong -- the latest of which is that Armstrong cheated as part of a seamless and well-organized doping program funded by the covert selling of team bikes.
Landis told The Wall Street Journal that he learned of the program because he was constantly made to ride rickety and inferior models. He says he did some "investigating" and was told by Postal team director Johan Bruyneel that the new Trek bikes were sold for cash to fund the team blood-doping program. Landis estimates 60 bikes were sold that way.
Armstrong said that was the first he'd heard of using the money from sold bikes to fund a doping scheme. But the seven-time Tour de France winner was sure he and Landis rode the same bike. (For more of Armstrong's thoughts on Landis, click here.)
Bruyneel, who is Armstrong's current coach on Team RadioShack, was flummoxed by Landis' charges, saying that they "never happened." Bruyneel added that Landis once lost a stage in a 2004 race because his derailleur failed. Landis claimed the bike's frame cracked in The Journal's article.
"He got in a fight with the warehouse manager over [the derailleur failing]," Bruyneel said. "He'd been drinking. He drank too much. He drank every night during the tour. Some guys might have a glass of wine or two with dinner, but not three-quarters of a bottle of wine like he did. Not during the Tour."
This is not the first time somebody has blamed alcohol for Landis' behavior. Once, Landis did it himself. Back in 2006, when he won the Tour -- and then had it yanked away -- Landis said his positive test for testosterone was due to drinking two beers and "at least" four shots of whiskey after a dismal performance that day.
The next morning he went out and rode the stage of his life -- one of the greatest rides in Tour de France history -- to vault himself back into the yellow jersey. Amazing, considering he was apparently riding a heap.
Bruyneel said Landis received five brand-new bikes at the start of the season but was upset because Armstrong got more.
The coach also admitted that the team sells its bikes, but not until after the race, adding, "Not until years after, sometimes. ... But what he says [about the bikes funding a blood-doping program], that is crazy."
A spokesman for Trek couldn't be reached.
The Wall Street Journal accusations are just a few of the many Landis has fired at Armstrong and Bruyneel. Here's a look at some of them:
• Landis charged that during the 2004 Tour, the team bus pulled over "pretending to have engine trouble" after a stage so the team, Armstrong included, could juice up with fresh blood. This one strains credulity a bit. During a tour, Armstrong's team bus is the most famous in Europe. It's a rolling billboard. Fans follow it from every finish to every start to every finish again. Thousands photograph it every day. A bus that famous pulling over so all its riders can dope up inside would be some trick. The other problem is that Armstrong is never actually on the bus after a race. Because of Armstrong's post-race media and drug-testing obligations, the team goes on to the next hotel without him. When he's finished, Armstrong either is driven or takes a helicopter to the hotel.
• Landis accused Armstrong of having a flunked doping test covered up at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. The only problem? Armstrong didn't ride in the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
• Landis said that in 2006 -- when he was riding for an opposing team -- he gave then-Postal rider and current Armstrong teammate Levi Leipheimer a blood transfusion in the middle of the Tour. At the time, Landis was in the race lead. Also a little hard to swallow. The rider wearing the yellow jersey sneaking over to an opponent's room to shoot him up? So that opponent could ride better the next day? Come on.
Landis credits counseling for his turnabout. He says his therapist convinced him of the freeing power of the truth.
Still, Landis' charges are bold enough to pique the interest of dogged federal investigator Jeff Novitzky -- the man who brought down BALCO head Victor Conte and trackster Marion Jones, among others. Novitzky has the assistance of U.S. Attorney Doug Miller, a federal prosecutor from Los Angeles who also worked on the BALCO case.
And what does Landis have to gain by confessing to all this? Not a book. He already wrote one in defense of his innocence -- "Positively False" -- which can now be found at the dollar table in a bookstore near you. He'd pay back, if he could, the nearly $1 million he raised from fans for his legal defense, which he now admits was a red herring. (So far, none of those donors have sued.)
But where will he get the money? He's no longer a good enough cyclist to command any kind of salary or endorsements. And there are not a lot of corporations looking for a keynote speaker to talk about how to cheat and then lie for four years about it.
It seems that -- much like the Los Angeles Lakers' Ron Artest -- Landis credits counseling for his turnabout. He says his therapist convinced him of the freeing power of the truth.
Whether the bike world finally gets to the truth is a different question.
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