Monday, April 23, 2007
Updated: April 25, 5:35 PM ET
Landis camp cries foul over latest test report
By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com
The latest bombshell in the doping case against Floyd Landis -- a French media report stating that some of the Tour de France winner's backup urine samples have also shown traces of synthetic testosterone, confirming the lone original positive -- would seem to lessen the cyclist's chances of clearing his name.
On the contrary, say Landis and members of his legal team. They contend the tests were conducted in violation of standard laboratory procedure and without proper oversight, further bolstering their claim that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's prosecution of their client is rigged.
Landis commented briefly to reporters on a teleconference call Monday by reading from a prepared statement: "These failures in any other industry would be considered criminal negligence."
During the same call, lead counsel Maurice Suh said the team might challenge the tests' validity before the arbitration panel that will hear the case, or in U.S. District Court, or both.
He said the fact that Landis' samples were identified in a French media report means the testing was done without appropriate "blinding," or control samples intended to preserve the samples' anonymity. Suh added that observers sent to monitor the tests by the Landis team were denied access to portions of the week-long testing and data analysis.
Landis' legal team has not received complete documentation of the test results yet, Suh said. On Monday, he said he and co-counsel Howard Jacobs might request a delay in the hearing, scheduled to begin May 14 in the Los Angeles area, to adequately review the science and procedure behind the results of the new tests.
"Any fair analysis of the way USADA has conducted this would lead the panel to view these results as exactly what they are worth -- nothing," Suh said.
Tuesday, Landis told ESPN's Cold Pizza his side will ask for more time before the May 14 hearing.
"Scheduled is a hearing on May 14 and it will take approximately 10 days," Landis said. "We are going to ask for more time. We don't believe the hearing should take place on the 14th because we will have received this information within only a few days of the hearing beginning. We won't have time to review it. We think if there are objective people making decisions, we'll get more time. But right now it's scheduled for the 14th."
On Wednesday, Lance Armstrong said he applauds Landis' decision to publicly share his mistrust of the French lab.
"I think it's a good tactic to share that with the public," the seven-time Tour de France winner told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I believe in Floyd, I believe he hasn't had a fair shake. I don't trust the lab."
USADA general counsel Travis Tygart, who will become chief executive executive officer later this year, declined to comment, citing agency rules.
"I can't address any of the specific allegations made today by Mr. Landis," Tygart said.
The most recent skirmish over potential evidence in the case broke out Monday when the French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe reported -- citing no specific source -- that tests of Landis' "B" or backup samples at the Laboratoire National de Depistage du Dopage (LNDD) outside Paris showed exogenous testosterone, or a form of the hormone not naturally produced by the body.
Numerous athletes' test results have been leaked to L'Equipe over the past several years. This leak of Landis' purported results comes just three weeks after the World Anti-Doping Agency deplored the same newspaper's report that there were hormonal irregularities in year-old samples given by quintuple Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe of Australia. Thorpe's results were not considered an official positive.
Jacobs said the Landis team will ask the arbitrators to require laboratory and USADA employees to sign affidavits saying they did not provide the information to L'Equipe, "because we believe the source of the leak is relevant to the improprieties we believe took place" during the testing, he said.
Each side sent two observers to monitor the testing. Suh said the expert observers selected by Landis were not given the full access to which they were entitled during the first five days of testing. The lawyer said one of Landis' observers had to go home, and the one who remained was barred from the building over the weekend at the behest of a USADA lawyer.
Pierre Bordry, president of the French anti-doping agency, told the AP that Landis' observers were denied entry on those days because USADA's observers were not present. Bordry told the AP the tests were concluded this weekend but he didn't know the result because they were sent directly to USADA.
Landis' experts, Paul Scott and Simon Davis, are expected to testify for him at the May hearing and will not be available to speak to reporters, said Landis spokesman Michael Henson.
Based on preliminary feedback from the observers, "There is no scientific validity to these test results," Henson said. "There were errors noted from the time they hit the ground. This just confirms everything we've been crying foul about since we got the first lab documents last Aug. 31."
Davis has helped develop mass spectrometry machinery used to conduct carbon-isotope testing, according to Henson. Scott is a former UCLA lab chemist and client director.
Scott also helped found the Agency for Cycling Ethics, which is coordinating a widely praised internal team-testing program implemented this season by the U.S.-based Slipstream-Chipotle cycling team directed by ex-pro Jonathan Vaughters. Slipstream riders are undergoing regular physiological tests designed to detect possible performance-enhancing drug use in addition to those conducted by anti-doping agencies and sports governing bodies.
Landis was tested eight times during last July's Tour de France. In initial screening for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio, one urine sample exceeded the 4-to-1 threshold allowed by the WADA code.
By required protocol, that sample was then analyzed for synthetic testosterone, using the carbon-isotope ratio method, and was declared positive by the French lab. Seven of the eight "A" samples were destroyed by the testing. The "B" samples were preserved, as is standard in anti-doping procedure. It is not yet clear whether the French lab tested the remaining "A" sample last week.
The three-person arbitration panel convened under USADA's auspices must still make a final ruling on whether the data generated by the new "B" sample tests will be admitted as evidence. The panel made a tentative ruling that USADA could use the findings but reserved a definitive decision for later.
In a ruling released earlier this month, the panel voted 2-1 to allow the new round of testing on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to stop it. USADA requested the testing, which is highly unusual on samples in which the original or "A" sample tested negative. Arbitrator Christopher Campbell dissented strongly, saying the testing violated Landis' rights.
Landis' legal team responded by asking that the tests be run at a "neutral" laboratory, arguing that the French lab had a serious conflict of interest because its reputation was under fire. However, the team's first pick, the WADA-accredited lab at UCLA, was unavailable because the machinery used to do carbon-isotope testing was being repaired, outgoing lab director Dr. Don Catlin told the Associated Press.
Athletes' samples are divided at the time they are provided, and a test is not considered positive unless the "B" sample result backs up the "A."
Jacobs, who has represented many prominent athletes charged with doping violations, said USADA has abandoned any pretense of pursuing Landis' case in a responsible manner because of the cyclist's aggressive public defense. Landis posted many documents related to his case on the Internet and has been barnstorming the country raising money to cover his legal costs, which have exceeded $1 million.
The agency's stance boils down to, "If you fight, we will go after you," Jacobs said. "It's the attitude of a system that has historically used high-profile cases to increase their budget.
They assume the role of prosecutor without assuming the ethical obligations of prosecutors, such as revealing exculpatory evidence."
Landis, 31, of Murrieta, Calif., faces a two-year suspension retroactive to last July and will be stripped of his title if the doping allegations are upheld. Either side can appeal the arbitrators' decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, although Landis has said he does not know if he has the financial resources to do that.
Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.