This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
A few years ago it would have been an almost unthinkable prospect but on Thursday Floyd Landis, Jonathan Vaughters, and Travis Tygart will sit in the same auditorium at Yale Law School and hold a discussion on the hot topic of doping within professional cycling.
The discussion, titled ‘Spinning our Wheels?’ was set up by Landis, who has not made a public appearance since the Tour of California in 2010. It comes at a time of huge flux within the sport, with Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace entwined with a legal case involving Landis, Tygart’s Reasoned Decision that included testimony from both Landis and Vaughters and question marks over the future of the sport and the fight against doping.
Speaking exclusively to Cyclingnews, Landis said that the event came to fruition through his drive to add something positive to cycling. He famously confessed to doping in 2010 after years of previous denial, with his testimony and shocking revelations leading to downfall of the US Postal myth. The saga is far from closed, with a federal whistleblower case still on the table and calls from within the sport for a truth and reconciliation programme. However, away from the direct debates over the UCI’s governance and WADA’s role – both past and present – in the fight against doping, Landis is hoping to engage a new audience and stimulate progress.
“I went to the Yale Law School and I said that it would be good if some people were to have a look at the issue of doping within cycling; how we got here and what the solution is going forward. They got excited about the prospect and so we’ve got four guys on the panel that includes me. I think the real goal is to get young students and put this issue in front of them and see if there’s any different approach to how we’re dealing with the problem because it obviously hasn’t been working,” Landis said.
The discussion will last 90 minutes and will be chaired by the distinguished Jacob Stewart Hacker, who is the Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale. Along with Tygart and Vaughters, Landis will be joined by Professor Thomas Murray, who serves as the Chair of the Ethical Issues Review Panel for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“I’ve not got anything scripted but I’ll have some thoughts from an athlete’s perspectives. I’ve arranged it so we’ve got a team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, Travis Tygart from USADA and Tom Murray who has written about the topic of doping. I don’t know if it will be a debate but more a discussion about where things stand regarding how we’re dealing with doping. It’s not about pretending we can ever eliminate the problem but certainly the current system can be refined.”
While the mainstream reputations of Armstrong and the US Postal team have been thoroughly dismantled in recent months, Landis has watched from the sidelines. No longer involved in the inner workings of the sport, he has still maintained an element of contact via the media and several close friends.
Landis hopes to address the issue of whether the culture of doping has changed, and if the risks and rewards of drug taking have altered.
“All I can talk about is what I know from when I was racing. For me it doesn’t appear that the risk and reward structure has changed. Nor has the management of cycling. There’s not a lot of reason, other than taking people at their word that anything has really changed. We’ve seen where ‘taking people at their word’ leads us.
“I know I’ve not made many recent public appearances. I’ve not done much. It’s not because I don’t like it. It’s just that until now there hasn’t been any conclusion for the generation of riders I was involved with and things are ongoing and developing. Now I think it might not be a bad time to sit down and say here’s where we think we are and here’s what’s been effective and what hasn’t. It might be that bright and fresh perspectives from some law students will be affective.
“One thing I can say is that it’s unfortunate if you’re a manager of a team or running a race and you’re trying to look for sponsors at the moment. That’s not an enjoyable job at the moment but the fact is that people still care about cycling and the fact that they remain is a good thing.
“Maybe the kids that are racing now and watching this unfold are thinking, one of these days if I dope and it comes out I’ll be caught and humiliated and that will be deterrent. But I really don’t know.”
The presence of Tygart and Landis in the same arena will almost certainly be a fascinating spectacle. Before Landis confessed to doping in 2010 and cooperated fully with the resulting investigations, he and Tygart were poles apart. Presently, there’s a middle ground between the two men but Landis insists that USADA could still refine their policies further based off the information he and several other riders have provided the anti-doping agency with.
“There was a point where we were complete adversaries because I was trying to preserve the career I had in cycling,” Landis told Cyclingnews.
“Then there was a period in time where our interests were at least somewhat aligned and that was because I wanted to educate those guys on what had been happening so they could do something about it.
“Now I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I don’t entirely think that everything USADA and WADA do is in the best interest of objectivity. Sometimes they have to play a political side so there are some disagreements but I don’t know if we’re going to get into a heated debate. We see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and there’s some changes that I think could be made that would be helpful for them. It has no effect on me but I would get some satisfaction knowing that I’ve made some positive change.”
Finally, when asked about whether anti-doping agencies had been selective over their targets given the magnitude of doping revealed within cycling over the last two decades, Landis said: “I don’t think the anti-doping agencies have the resources to go after everybody. The tests don’t work so they have to go after the biggest guy and that’s one way of doing it. I think that’s as equally as unfair as selectively enforcing the rules in cycling. But as a practical manner maybe they see it as the best use of the resources they have. I think it’s a bit of a dilemma for them because on one hand they’re saying they enforce the rules and what’s fair but on the other hand they’re enforcing them selectively and that’s unfair. There’re a lot of reasons why that’s happening. Some of them are based around the fact they’re trying to get the biggest results out of the money they have and sometimes, depending on who it is and how things go, it becomes personal.”
Spinning our Wheels? Takes place at Yale Law School, Levinson Auditorium, 127 Wall Street at 4pm on February 28.