Tests on Floyd Landis' backup sample confirmed irregular testosterone levels, cycling's governing body announced yesterday, throwing the cyclist's Tour de France title and his career into doubt and raising far-reaching concerns about the extent of doping in sports.
In a result that sets off a legal battle likely to be not only lengthy but ferociously complex, cycling's governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI, said tests conducted at a French lab affirmed the "adverse analytical finding" first made public July 26.
Landis now faces the prospect of becoming the first champion in the Tour's 103-year history to lose the title over doping allegations. His Swiss-based team, Phonak, promptly fired him for what it called a "positive finding of doping."
Landis, 30, who lives in Murrieta, Calif., insisted he is innocent. He said in a statement, "I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone."
The developments yesterday are likely to significantly sharpen the focus on doping in sports and particularly on American athletes.
"The penny is finally dropping: American athletes are just as likely as anybody else to do this," Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said in a telephone interview.
Last week, just two days after Landis' initial test results were released, U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin announced that he had tested positive in April for testosterone. Gatlin is the reigning Olympic and world 100-meter champion.
Landis won the Tour after a breathtaking breakaway on Stage 17 through the Alps, a ride July 20 that made up most of the time he had lost in a sluggish performance the day before.
Spain's Oscar Pereiro finished second. He stands to be declared victor of the three-week Tour should Landis' title be stripped.
After that Stage 17 win, Landis was subjected to routine doping controls. His urine sample was, per regulation, divided into two parts, so-called "A" and "B" samples.
Results on the A sample showed what Phonak on July 27 called an "unusual" ratio of testosterone to epitosterone. Both are hormones; both occur naturally in the body.
Synthetically produced testosterone has long been known, however, to help build strength and endurance and to help athletes recover more quickly from significant exertion.
The typical ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is 1:1. Anything over 4:1 is outside the rules.
Landis' level was 11:1.
Authorities also performed what is called a "carbon isotope ratio analysis" on the "A" sample - a test that can show whether the testosterone at issue was produced naturally or was, in scientific jargon, "exogenous," meaning from outside the body.
That result, first reported July 28 in the French newspaper L'Equipe, showed evidence of synthetic testosterone.
While the "B" sample readings announced yesterday confirmed irregularities, it was not immediately clear if the "B" tests also produced an 11:1 ratio.
Landis, along with his doctors and European lawyers, has offered a variety of explanations for the irregular results - beer and whiskey the night of the Stage 16 ride, thyroid medication, dehydration. None is likely to conclusively explain away the irregular "A" and "B" results nor the carbon test readings.
"We've been vilified and borderline ridiculed over the last week for spinning what a number of people are calling implausible defenses," a Landis spokesman, Michael Henson, said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Landis was simply "trying to come to terms with all the possibilities here," Henson said, emphasizing, "He maintains his innocence. He didn't take any banned substances," and adding, "Over the next few weeks we'll start seeing, through the legal defense, how this all transpired."
The formal filing of a doping offense will likely take about two weeks - after a review by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which would prosecute the matter.
The finding of a doping violation could lead to the loss of his title and a two-year suspension.
A case is likely to take months, if not years. Landis' attorney, Howard Jacobs, an expert in the science, law and politics of doping cases, has proven he is both willing and able to aggressively pursue any thread.
Alan Abrahamson writes for the Los Angeles Times.