October 17, 2006

Floyd Landis: the Editorial

By now you will have heard that Floyd Landis has gone public with the documentary evidence against him in his anti-doping case. Landis, you will recall, tested positive for testosterone after Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. He is contesting that positive finding on the basis that the laboratory and anti-doping agencies departed from applicable international standards. I have written before about Floyd's chances in this case but I thought I would revisit the issue now that I have more facts in front of me.

The full laboratory documentation has been released by Landis' team and you can find the download instructions at FloydLandis.com. The download includes a PowerPoint presentation created by one Dr. Arnie Baker, and the letter that Landis' lawyer submitted to the ADRB asking that the case against him be dismissed.

Alternatively you can also access the documents at archive.com, where the blogger at Trust But Verify has made all three hundred and seventy individual pages available as separate PDFs. TBV has become an excellent clearinghouse for information on the case.

Before I get to my analysis of the evidence, I have a little bit of editorializing to do.

Providing all of this information to the public is certainly a novel approach. To many internet-savvy cycling fans this move (and his request for an open hearing) has cemented the perception of Landis as an honest man in a crooked system. There has not yet been any technical response from the LNDD, the UCI, or WADA, and I would not expect one until the hearing. However, it would be foolish to assume that Dr. Baker's PowerPoint slides are the last word on the subject. Unfortunately there are few people who have shown a willingness to be skeptical towards both sides of this story. I'm going to try.

There are two separate but related issues that we could debate here, and I'd like to distinguish between them. The first question is: did Floyd Landis use prohibited Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)? The second is: will he be sanctioned for using prohibeted PEDs?

The answer to the second question is not completely dependent on the answer to the first. Landis may be innocent, but if he has had a valid positive test then he will be punished anyway. By a "valid" positive, I mean one that is positive under the anti-doping rules and procedures that were in place at the time the test was performed.

Of course, the opposite scenario is also possible; Landis might be guilty of using PEDs but still get off on a technicality. Again, the answer to this question rides on the validity of the positive test. If Landis' positive is ruled to be invalid, then he will not be sanctioned.

Part of Floyd's very public campaign of self-defence is aimed at convincing the public and his sponsors that he is not a cheater. It would make me very happy if that was true; however, I think that the answer to this question is essentially unknowable and I am not going to spend any time debating it. If some day Floyd admits that he cheated, or an LNDD technician admits that (s)he cooked the test results, then we can resolve the issue one way or another. I don't think anything I can say in the meantime will change anybody's mind.

The technical portions of Landis' defence, on the other hand, wisely concentrate on challenging the validity of his positive test. In other words, leaving the question of guilt or innocence out of it, Landis will attempt to escape sanction by demonstrating that he did not have a valid positive test. It is this question — the validity of the test results and Floyd's chances of being found "not guilty" — that I will try to address here.

One last point: if you are one of those Floyd Landis fans who thinks that this whole thing is some grand conspiracy orchestrated by the Tour de France, UCI, French media, LNDD, and/or Dick Pound, then nothing in the laboratory documentation package is going to change your mind one way or another. A perfect documentation package, after all, would only be evidence of a perfect conspiracy! In fact if you are one of those conspiracy theorists I would recommend that you don't even look at the evidence — it's just going to be a lot of hard work for nothing.

Now: onward to the analysis!

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