Parsing Floyd Landis

Bashing Floyd Landis has become something of a past time for cycling fans. Even before his first implosion he was a rough-hewn character, the Crocodile Dundee of the cycling world. Within the US Postal Service Team he was Oscar to Lance Armstrong’s Felix in the boys in blue’s production of “The Odd Couple.”

From his first explanation for his positive test (Jack Daniels) he showed a capacity for the unexpected that could take even a fortune teller by surprise. His book, “Positively False” showed a rebellious, impish spirit designed almost perfectly to clash with Armstrong’s iron fist management. As an expression of spirit, it was an entertaining read and fairly complete in its examination of his career—with one not-so-small omission: his pharmacy.

I wrote several posts concerning Landis’ defense and read the entire transcript of the CAS appeal at Pepperdine University. While the UCI acted on an understandable “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” premise, I’m convinced they never actually caught Landis. The initial test was so poorly performed that the case against him should have been dropped. My problem with the case wasn’t that I wanted a cheat to win, it was that I didn’t want to see the same tactics result in the suspension of an innocent rider.

In a spectacular variation on the “guilty but not responsible” defense, I can see how he might have thought, “I’m accused of something I didn’t actually do. I can beat this, because they didn’t catch me at what I did do.”

Who wouldn’t think that?

Landis’ career and life were utterly destroyed as he pursued his defense. Many people are angry that a guilty man took money from them to mount an extraordinarily expensive, but ultimately fruitless, defense. Viewed through the mindset outlined above, an argument can be made that he wasn’t cheating anyone.

But for those who didn’t provide for his defense, an understandable outrage remains: Landis’ doping case cost USADA so much to prosecute that they ran other efforts on reduced budgets. In short, Landis’ defense impinged on other anti-doping efforts.

Since changing his story, cycling fans and the media have seized upon his story as either the raving of a lunatic or the smoking gun necessary to bring down Big Tex. What’s amazing is how often I encounter people who didn’t believe he was innocent when he first tested positive and yet don’t believe him now that he has confessed to doping.

Which is it, people? It can’t be both.

While it is logically possible that both stories could be complete fabrications, that’s highly unlikely. A lie is told to serve a larger purpose and if Landis is lying now, we have to ask the question: ‘To what purpose?’

If what he says isn’t true, the ramifications for him could include jail time, which is perhaps the only meaningful deterrent for him as he is essentially without assets at this point and what lawyers frequently refer to as “judgement-proof.” And I don’t think Landis would willingly choose jail as an alternative to unemployment.

Still, Landis hasn’t made this easy for himself. While he has given investigator Jeff Novitzky a variety-pack of allegations that the dogged and successful investigator is chasing, he has also handed us gems like the suggestion that the UCI protected some riders.

While I can name instances—for which I was present—where the UCI’s application of its own rules was highly irregular, I never saw anything that bordered on protecting a doped rider. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened; Landis has yet to provide anything stronger than a rumor and his other allegations suffer for it.

Now, Landis has asserted that cycling is the Superfund Site of sports, an endeavor in which doping is so inextricably entwined that cleaning it up is less likely than man traveling at the speed of light. His solution? Open a top fuel division: allow doping.

Look, I believe that Landis has seen things and knows things that could help to shed light to investigators on the doping front. Think of him as first mate on the Santa Maria. His eyewitness accounts of Columbus’ voyage to the west would be invaluable. We need him to talk.

However, every time he opens his mouth on something he didn’t personally do or see, he gets into trouble. What he doesn’t understand is that his usefulness to cycling does not extend, currently, to suggestions such as eliminating the doping code.

Here’s something that is not a newsflash: Doping will never be eliminated. In any population there will be those who cut corners, push the bounds, cheat. Those few should not cause an entire society to capitulate. Just because people are murdered, should we all carry guns?

Because so much of what Landis has to say seems to be based in the same variety of nuttiness that led the Octomom to become the world’s only single mother to 14 children, many people simply write him off. It’s understandable, if tragic.

Years ago I knew someone who would buy Lucky Charms cereal and pour small bowls of it and pick the marshmallows out, leaving behind the cereal, which was just Alphabits. I always thought of it as a waste of cereal. Landis has given me the capacity to see the merit in just extracting the tiny bits of gold that are presented. Maybe it’s unfair to compare him to a marshmallow, but not everything that comes out of his mouth is crazy. In dismissing everything he says as a fabrication from whole cloth, we lose an opportunity to learn from his experiences as a rider, and we do that at our own peril.

What he knows could provide an invaluable education to both the UCI and to WADA.

What Landis doesn’t seem to understand is that the UCI can’t be treated as an adversary if your purpose is to help expose the doping problems inherent in cycling. Unfortunately, Pat McQuaid is Floyd Landis’ doppelgänger, and in that he is no less likely to make statements of such sweeping irresponsibility that we have little use for them except to fertilize the whole of the plains states.

This week, with little surprise, Landis announced his retirement, effective immediately. It’s easy to turn his announcement into a joke about the obvious—that he really had no career currently—but the sadder truth is that it was an admission on his part that it was time to let go of a dream.

Landis knows things, helpful things. We should hear him out and we should show him some compassion. He’s lost everything he worked for. Is that really the just result for his transgressions?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Ron Callahan

    Thanks for a well thought out article on Landis. I started out reading it thinking that it was going to be just another “kick ’em while he’s down” post on his retirement, but it was balanced and hit on many points that I’ve been saying about him all along.

    We need to give him a little time to get past the sting of the loss of a career, but he definitely has more to say and to teach.

  2. Stephen Baumann

    ” What’s amazing is how often I encounter people who didn’t believe he was innocent when he first tested positive and yet don’t believe him now that he has confessed to doping.
    Which is it, people? It can’t be both.”

    Of course “It” can be both unless I misunderstand your point. Landis was lying when he said he didn’t dope and he’s lying now when he talks about other riders doping. What’s so amazing about thinking that he lies about everything on the topic?

  3. Jim

    “viewed through that lens.” Well, sure. If you let Floyd subjectively define what comprises truth, then Floyd was telling the truth all along. The problem is most of us don’t buy other people’s self-serving, subjective re-definitions of common words. What Floyd did, in the vernacular, was to lie, to exploit people’s trust for monetary gain, to lie some more, and then when all other things failed, to tell the truth in service to yet another effort (his qui tam suit) to make some money for Floyd. Understand, the visceral negative reaction to Floyd may be unfair, but it is not without a solid basis in Floyd’ bad actions.

    The contrast to Lance is pretty clear. Lance may have cheated and lied about it, but he hasn’t tried to get the rest of us to ally with him and support him in his (if he doped) dishonest effort to evade accountability for it. Yeah, we get that he probably doped, but he hasn’t asked the rest of us to underwrite his defense.

    I guess it’s the difference between a guy who may be a liar and a cheat, and a guy who is a flat out con man. The former is self-serving, the other looks like a sociopath.

    1. Author

      Ron: Thanks much. Happy to surprise.

      Stephen: As I mentioned before, it simply doesn’t make sense that he would lie about both. Lying about doping made sense when it seemed that he might save his Tour victory and his career. Lying now doesn’t make sense because if he is lying his allegations, which are being investigated rather vigorously, will be proven false. In that event, he faces a number of very bad scenarios, including potential jail time. Further, telling a lie that can’t be proven as true serves no real purpose for him. He ultimately benefits in no material way.

      Jim: We’re not talking a subjective definition of truth. It is absolutely true by any measure that his initial positive test was incorrectly performed and should have been thrown out. It is also absolutely true that he doped, but the latter doesn’t make the former any less true. Also, I don’t really think Landis deserves to be called a sociopath. There are a number of indicating behaviors that he simply doesn’t display.

  4. James

    What strikes me about Landis is his similarity of character with Bernard Kohl, another cheater. It’s all lie, lie, lie until you are boxed in and then confess and expect everyone to respect you! Actually that sounds like all of the drug cheats in sport! If Landis or anyone can help the testers fine but don’t expect to be respected for being a cheater.

  5. Touriste-Routier

    Floyd’s biggest problem has been his roughness, lack of media savvy, and his lack of professional resources to serve as his mouth piece. It is one thing to think crazy stuff, and another thing to say it! The other end of the spectrum is Lance.

    While even liars can tell the truth sometimes, he has hurt his credibility so much by opening his mouth on subjects that don’t relate to his own case. While many dislike him because he admitted doping after taking their money for his defense, he never fessed up to being guilty of what he was convicted of. Since the due process and testing were sufficiently flawed, and there were no negative repercussions from admitting this too, there is a chance that this confessed doper is actually innocent of the crime that brought him down.

    He clearly has a possible motive of revenge against Lance, after not being hired to ride for Radio Shack, which hurts his credibility further, but this doesn’t make him a liar. Whether risking jail time is sufficient deterrent to stop him from making stuff up is beyond me; we haven’t always seen the most rational behavior from him. However, many of the things he has claimed is consistent with other tales, though circumstantial nonetheless.

    Now that he has retired, he needs to decide whether he wants to stay in the public eye or not. If he truly loves the sport and wants to stay involved, he could easily race as an amateur again should he not find a pro contract. But to retire bitter, and to stay in the spotlight may only further negatively affect his credibility.

  6. Matthew

    Nice analogy, the culling of Lucky Charms marshmallows. I have had some success comparing FL to the court jester in King Lear. Wisdom & truth come from the those we expect to act like a horse’s ass. Something FL is something of a natural at.

    BTW, I’ve been a fan of FL’s from the beginning, when I heard some of early training antics (sneaking out of the house, etc). Despite being very disappointed by his TdF explosion, I remain a fan. Like you said, one shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  7. Brett

    Matt: Brilliant? Really? I think that is a bit much. I think he’s not an evil person. Flawed, misunderstood and tragic I agree. But brilliant?

  8. Lachlan

    its very simple for me – while very much of what he claims is likely to be true, there’s plenty of reason to think he is a bit bitter and trying to take down other with him. EVen if that is not the case, he’s simply not been in a position to know that everyone cheats. He might think it, and know how to go about cheating, but thats a lot different to knowing or having proof everyone does.

    As for saying you can take as much dope as you like without getting caught… a string of very high profile riders and big event winners who have been caught in that last few years would seem to show thats simply, factually false. Doesnt mean everyone is caught by any means, but does show that even the best are being caught if they cheat and are being punished not let off… just pick a grand tour or classic from recent years and think of the “winners” who have been banned…

    It’s one of the sad things about all the mess of doping scandals that catching people seems to be used as proof that everyone can get away with it. Interesting logic.

  9. Hank

    Jim, consumers, fans and contributors have all underwritten Lance’s defense. If it’s true Lance has doped, he has made more millions off of cheating then Landis could ever dream of. It pays for a media, PR and legal machine that has made Lance the teflon Don of cycling.

    If the accusations are even half true, there isn’t a dimes bit of difference between Floyd’s cheating and Lances, including the denials. Floyd is just an incompetent bumpkin when it comes to running a scam where as Lance is as smooth and savvy as they come.

  10. Alex Torres

    Although we´re yet to see where all of Landis´ accusations and stories will take (in many regards), I see him as just the latest one to join the not-so-small collective of caught/confessed/exposed and whatnot riders who claim to have enough “insider information” to “clear the sport”. As we know, they have not, at least not so far. Which begs the question: if things are so bad and there´s enough knowledge to fight it, why it hasn´t happened? Will it ever? Is it just an unfulfilled promise or the reign of impossible as Landis says?

    There are indeed many ways and perspectives in which to analyze Landis and his case. To me, the real problem is not his doping or even his lying, but the pettyness that permeate his persona, his reasons and motivations. From the very beginning – perhaps of his carreer – he´s out for himself and himself only. Lying or telling the truth, he´s small, he thinks small and he acts small. Would we see this if he was given a spot at AToC or RS? I doubt it. Then no wonder he lost his TdF title, right or wrong. Yes I do feel sorry and compassionate for him in his sad human condition.

    It´s a paraddox then that he´s started something big. Maybe it´s the timming, maybe he was too close to Lance, who knows. But fact remains: he´s not fighting Armstrong like Kimmage or Walsh for instance. He´s more like LeMond. There´s a real, present and heavy personal component permeating every action and declaration of his and it all started from there. It just transpires, and thus conspires against his crusade for a cleaner sport, if he ever was on one. Unlike his call for help before, this one is hard to buy – at least for me.

  11. Hank

    The one thing I never understood about this whole Landis – Armstrong deal is why didn’t Lance just buy Floyd off? Get him a spot on some team and a job in cycling and let him join the very large Lance gravy train. It would have been a lot cheaper then a weeks worth of Lance’s current legal / PR damage control fees.

  12. Hank

    Lance would be just helping out a down on his luck former team mate. That’s not an admission of anything 🙂 If it’s true you were willing to cheat and break the law with the guy, why get all high and mighty now about keeping him quiet?

    The alternative, having your team and yourself dragged in to testify under oath, that could bring about more then a few admissions of guilt.

  13. Robot

    My big problem with Landis, who I loved watching, is that he’s just not very smart. He never quite figured out how to play the game, and he never quite figured out how to not play the game. He seems to equate speaking without thinking first with telling the truth, and that’s a good way to say a lot of stupid things. Too much of the time, you get the impression even he doesn’t know the truth.

    It’s a matter of principles, I think. If you don’t have them, you’re liable to lie, cheat and steal, not necessarily because you’re a bad person, but rather because you don’t have a good frame of reference for making difficult decisions. In this, I would argue that Landis and Armstrong are a lot alike.

  14. swissarmy

    The issue is not the amount of money they lost backing Landis’ defense, but why they were willing to do it in the first place. Up to that point their largest investment had been Lance and the creation of the Armstrong narrative. Were they just good guys coming to the defense of a former employee (who didn’t get along with their main drawing card and left on bad terms), or was it an investment in Landis to protect their bigger investment maybe?

    As far as Landis is concerned, I agree with Robot that Landis never has completely understood the bigger game he is in. He wasn’t and still isn’t in the same league as the main players in the sport, and I’m referring not as much to the competitors as I am to the financiers and the governing bodies. But depending on how all this shakes out, if it ever does, he may just wind up having the last laugh.

  15. Marco Placero

    All Floyd can do is point backward at historical events. He can’t help cycling with it’s doping problem because he’s simply been out of the game too long, likely knows little of current doping products and channels.
    He’s a bizarre footnote and maybe even an icon of modern stage racing, through his failure. I use the term ‘icon’ as criticism, not compliment. Floyd was a hard-working guy that took his best shot at cycling, who maybe thought he was capable of getting away with doping (like the others?) despite limited resources. I used to like the guy, kinda feel for him. I always felt sorry for Frankenstein’s monster, because we forget that we created him.

  16. Kelly

    Landis was a perfect ‘patsy’ (the lone mad doper on US Postal)for the antidoping folks, the cycling governing bodies and Armstrong. He is not media savvy, and could be put through the ringer pretty easily. Armstrong helps him out with the defense hoping he keeps his mouth shut. The governing bodies can hold up Landis of an example of their commitment to clean up the sport. I think all expected Landis, including Armstrong, to shut up and go away.

  17. Dr Codfish

    The best thing to come from the ‘Landis affair’ was an affirmation of just how powerful doping techniques can be. I’ve heard lots of people say that most of us cannot appreciate the effects, but the difference in one man, over two days, back to back was amazing.

    Yr Pal, Dr C

  18. Michael in Sydney

    Padriag I find your whole defense of Landis as one that is based more on your rejection of a key fact than any objective review. The fact you reject is that two panels found Landis guilty of doping in the TDF. It seems to me that your starting point for your defense of Landis is that he was innocent of doping in the TDF and so he has been done a wrong. Based on this we should cut him some slack.

    How do you come to this conclusion? As you say because you have read the whole CAS judgment and according to you USADA and CAS both got it wrong. It fine to have an opinion and to disagree with others. I have no problem with that but to present it as fact and not opinion as you have is just hubris on your part. Where is your evidence that CAS and USADA got it wrong? Where does it say “where there is smoke there is fire” is the principle that the UCI (actually US Cycling) acted on? You put it in quotes so I assume it in the judgments. Can you show that both panels showed bias against Landis and or excluded evidence that he did not doped? I don’t know what expertise you have in doping or evidence? Do you have any training in these fields?

    You argue that “The initial test was so poorly performed that the case against him should have been dropped.” Given that you could see this why could the two panels see this? In fact given the amount of doubt thrown on the whole testing process by Landis team, the fact that both panels still found him guilty means a lot to me. I had expected Landis to get off. What the judgments say to me is that what the Landis team presented as fact was either irrelevant or insubstantial in its weight. So it might have sounded good but it really had no impact on the outcomes or the validity of the tests.

    The point is that given all the evidence the two panels came to the same conclusion and the USA Cycling Federation suspended Landis.

    I may be a silly sheep but I would take the considered opinion of these experts in evidence over your considered opinion. Unless you can demonstrate how it is flawed based on expertise.

    I think that Landis’s behavior since his coming out has reduced any creditability that he may have had. If he has knowledge that the UCI could use then it would be lost in what I see, and I think a lot of people see, as his bitterness towards anyone and everyone connected with his life as a cyclist., particularly Armstrong.

    I fear that the bitterness that Landis is showing is consuming him so that he can not see the forest or the trees. I agree that he may have many useful things to say but you would have to ask who would actually rely on it?

    I find your treatment whole Landis thing a shame because it distract from an otherwise great blog. It won’t stop me reading.

    1. Author

      Michael: I’m not in a position to respond to each and every point you raise, but the the most important one here concerns the Landis case before CAS. What I read in full was more than just the CAS decision. I read the 1000+ pages of the transcript of the entire proceeding, not just their final decision. One need not be an expert to listen to the testimony of an expert witness and understand what they said. Further, in its decision CAS said that, in effect, WADA had not done its job rigorously enough and that if they presented a case as poorly prosecuted as Landis’ was, they would find for the defendant. It was a stunning rebuke both for its lack of logic and its indictment of the case. Imagine taking a test and having your teacher say, “You did a lousy job, but I’ll pass you this time. However, if you do this lousy a job next time, I’ll fail you.”

      Tell me, please, how does that make sense? How does it establish credibility for the panel. And remember, the panel’s decision was not unanimous; the dissenting opinion noted the lack of logic of the determination.

      Before passing judgement on my judgement, I suggest you read what I did. Who knows, you might change your mind.

      I’m not defending Landis’ behavior, but while his actions may not make sense, they don’t make him a liar. It’s no proof he’s telling the truth, but to connect his judgement with a determination on whether or not he’s telling the truth isn’t logical.

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