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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
I'll bet anything you responded just the way I did when I first heard the news today. American Floyd Landis, surprising victor of the fabled Tour de France this past Sunday, has been accused of cheating by way of steroids in this year's race. I couldn't believe my ears. Everyplace I've been today, colleagues and merchants and strangers on the street are sharing disbelief... and dismay.
If Landis is innocent, if perhaps the cortisone injections he's been taking for his degenerative hip caused the spike in testosterone numbers... if he happens to naturally produce a high testosterone level and can prove that from prior base sample stats... then Mr. Landis is sitting in hiding somewhere in much deeper shock than the rest of us. Except perhaps Tiger Woods, clutching the storied claret jug, his treasure for winning the British Open this Sunday, weeping as memories of his recently deceased father crossed his face, that same afternoon Floyd Landis was the happiest man on the planet.
For one, Landis had been Lance Armstrong's dedicated lieutenant for three Tours. Three times he sacrificed his considerable climbing skills to work for Lance's position. There was a great sense of justice in watching the one who had played his part without question now get the chance to show his stuff and have teammates protect him.
Landis also brought drama and a great story to this year's Tour, just when the public at large was lamenting the absence of the legend of Lance. His glycogen-deprived, second-to-last climb, his legs dead with fatigue, to the point that he was barely moving up the final grade, was truly painful to watch. He fell a desperate eight or so minutes behind the overall leader and headlines ---round the world the next day bemoaned the fact that he had blown his grand chance for Tour glory. His display of sheer will the next day, the last climb of the race, was as heroic as his bust was the day before. Yes, Sir Lance was absent. Also glaringly missing from this year's race were Lance's two major, long-time rivals, Germany's Jan Ullrich and Italy's Ivan Basso. Ullrich and Basso were among 20 riders who had been, to my mind, unfairly banned this year on the mere suspicion of performance enhancing drug violations. But witnessing Landis' determination up that grueling climb wiped out any prior disappointment of missing his supposedly superior peers.
For this year's Tour, Floyd Landis was the elite of cycling.
Landis was also a breath of fresh air in light of the drug scandal at the start of the Tour. In Paris on Sunday he remarked that young people could learn from a clean winner... and that the sport has a reputation for doping that doesn't seem to want to go away. Well, as high-profile as Landis was on Sunday and the couple of days following the Tour, he's been totally incommunicado since this story broke. His own mother hasn't even been terribly supportive. One statement she made was that she knows this, taking illegal drugs, is a temptation to every rider and she is disappointed to hear the allegations about her son. And the response from the Tour's runner-up, Spain's Oscar Pereiro, was telling, I thought. Pareiro says if Landis is stripped of the title and he in fact becomes this year's winner, it will mean nothing to him. Landis, to Pareiro's mind, regardless of A and B urine samples, is the 2006 Tour champion. Seems to me like an admission that performance drugs are simply not a big deal to the riders themselves.
Tour de France officials spin these constant high-level drug busts as a noble sign that cycling operates the most vigilant drug controls in all the world of sport. But when the King of your sport, just hours after winning the crown jewel of your sport, is jerked from the pedestal of admiration to the accusatory spotlight of public disdain, the nobility quickly evaporates. Just ask Bud Selig how Major League Baseball has felt the weight of its greatest star being perceived a cheat. Today is a crushing day for Floyd Landis and the Tour de France... and for cycling.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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