Floyd Landis has made his first appearance on the stand at the arbitration hearing which will decide whether or not he is stripped of his Tour de France title.
With his wife and parents present in the courtroom at Pepperdine University near Malibu in California, he told the hearing how he had been brought up as one of six siblings in a religious, Mennonite family and was taught the value of hard work from an early age. Under questioning from his own legal team, Landis detailed his early career as a professional mountain biker and his move into road racing with the Mercury team with which he had successes in the US and to a lesser extent in Europe.
When that team lost a prime sponsor in 2002 he contacted the US Postal team which had already attempted to hire him, he said. He was offered a contract and said he felt he “honoured” to become part of the team led by Lance Armstrong. Landis was asked directly if he ever used testosterone during his time with US Postal. “No.” he stated. Did he ever use any other performance enhancing substance during this time, he was asked. “Err, no.” he replied.
There was an insight into why he left the team when Landis alluded to “a little bit of conflict with Lance” over equipment and treatment and his desire to be part of a team that wasn’t so focused on one man and one race. Landis spoke about how his choice of the Phonak team was in part influenced by a desire to have team mates with whom he could socialise, given the difficulties of spending time living and training in Europe. He spoke about his friendship with Tyler Hamilton who appeared to be one of the prime factors behind his decision to sign for the German team in the summer of 2004, having introduced him to the team management.
Between Landis signing his contract and actually joining the team, however, Hamilton tested positive for an illegal blood transfusion at the Vuelta Espana and was subsequently banned from competition for two years. Landis told the courtroom he testified in favour of Hamilton at an anti-doping hearing. He said he felt it was “the least I could do” given Hamilton’s assistance during his contract negotiations with Phonak.
Landis said that he neither saw team mates using, nor himself used any testosterone or other doping products during his time at Phonak, specifying that he had a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the use of cortisone in relation to his damaged hip The American provided an insight into the Phonak team’s tactics in the run-up to the 2006 Tour de France, suggesting that they would be going for the win but remaining “conservative” in their approach.
Drilling deeper into the details of last year’s Tour, he described how during Stage 16 he failed to eat and drink properly and “bonked” towards the end of the day, leaving him helpless to respond when other riders attacked on the final climb. He spoke about his movements immediately after the end of the day’s stage and described how he didn’t want to speak to people but needed to eat and lie down for an hour or two. When asked for details about what else he did that evening Landis light-heartedly asked his lawyer, “Are we going to go through this again?” as if it was already a well-trodden path between himself and the legal team. He had a beer with team management before dinner he said, and after eating discussed tactics for the next day with team mates in his hotel room. It was at this meeting that Landis said he drank what he described as the “infamous Jack Daniels.”
The rider went onto tell the courtroom how with his team mates he decided to try and create confusion in the peloton on Stage 17 by mounting a sustained attack at the first climb. This, they thought, would allow Landis to make the escape he so desperately needed, after which he said he had planned to ride the stage “as if it was a four hour time trial.” It was something of a gamble, he said, but he felt that given his time deficit, the peloton might be disinclined to expend energy covering his attack, electing instead to allow him simply to win the stage and claw a few minutes back.
Landis said that in the event, just as he had hoped, the peloton made a miscalculation. The other teams did not organise themselves to chase him down early enough, allowing him to build up a significant lead and put himself back into contention in the General Classification His testimony then moved on to the period after the Tour when the positive tests were relayed to both him and the team management. Landis said when he first spoke to the media about the issue he simply read a statement prepared for him by Spanish lawyers which he had seen for the first time only five minutes beforehand. It was in this statement that Landis had claimed to have naturally high levels of testosterone.
Under questioning from his lawyer, he admitted that he did not know at the time if this was true or not, and did not even know what the statement meant. When asked about reading something he had not written or been consulted about Landis claimed he did so as there was confusion surrounding the situation and that he regretted it. “I didn’t know what was even coming in that statement,” he said. When asked to explain his subsequent assertions that his cortisone injections and even the Jack Daniels whiskey could have been responsible for the positive results, Landis said that he was simply trying to find a reason why the tests would have proved positive in the absence of having any firm information about the nature of the lab’s findings.
Landis went on to speak about the support he has had from his family and about finding out who his “real friends” are in the wake of the whole affair. He appeared less comfortable when the issue of his contact with Greg LeMond was raised, however. He referred to knowing that LeMond and Lance Armstrong had a “rough relationship” and didn’t like each other. This he said was related to LeMond’s comments about Armstrong’s Tour successes. When LeMond began commenting on Landis’ own situation, Landis said was annoyed and he decided to contact the three-time Tour winner. He said he didn’t remember the name of the friend who gave him LeMond’s personal phone number and that when he called, he had a job to convince LeMond that it was really him.
Landis said that LeMond told him that “he knows that Lance had doped. and that he is sure that I did it. and he needs me to come out and admit it.” Asked how he responded, Landis said; “I told him that I didn’t do and that it wouldn’t make any sense to admit to something I didn’t do, but that if I did admit it and I didn’t do it then I’d like him to tell me what the positive outcome could be.” Landis said that he was “a little traumatized” when LeMond informed him about how he had been sexual abused as a child – using it as an example of how keeping things secret is ultimately damaging. Landis said he told LeMond that he was “sorry” that those events had occurred. His lawyer then questioned Landis about how several months later he had made an internet posting in response to LeMond making more public statements about the affair – statements which included the suggestion that Landis had admitted the doping offence during the course of their phonecall.
In Landis’ internet posting, which the hearing has already seen as a prosecution exhibit, Landis made a threat that he would reveal details about LeMond that the latter would rather not be made public, if he continued to suggest that Landis was a doper. Landis stated that within minutes of the posting appearing, LeMond called him and said that he was not happy about it. Landis said he admitted to LeMond that what he had just done was unwise and apologized to him before trying to clarify that during their first conversation he had not admitted to any doping offence. He said that during the course of this second conversation LeMond said he, Landis, was free to talk about the sexual abuse issue as LeMond was writing a book about the experience.
The defence then entered what from its standpoint is the decidedly dangerous territory of Landis’ former business manager Will Geoghegan’s bizarre phone call to LeMond the night before his appearance at the hearing. Landis said that he was seated at the other end of the dining table to Geoghegan when the call took place. He said he did not know beforehand that Geoghegan was going to make the call, but stated that LeMond had been “the subject of the day” and that he “was left with no choice” but to tell the people around him about the detail of their previous conversations. Landis restated that Le Mond had told him he was planning to write a book about the sexual abuse and that he, Landis, was therefore free to talk about it.
On the night in question, Landis said that while playing with his Blackberry device he became aware that Geoghegan was speaking into his mobile phone but said that was unaware whether or not someone was on the other end of the line. He said it didn’t really sink in that Geoghegan had actually called anybody but that he was disturbed when Geoghegan’s phone rang seconds later and he had said, “It’s Greg LeMond.” Landis said at that point he realized there was a problem. Landis claimed that he then left the dining room and went to his own room while Geoghegan went to his. After a few minutes, Landis said he went to Geoghegan’s room and from outside heard him on the phone, he assumed, talking to LeMond. Landis said that Geoghegan then let him into the room looking “visibly disturbed.”
The following morning Landis said he fired Geoghegan and that evening helped him move out of the hotel. It was uncomfortable testimony and as a damage limitation exercise not entirely successful as it placed Landis very much in physical proximity to Geoghegan during what is being construed as witness interference. The defence attempted to conclude Landis’ testimony on a more positive note giving the rider the chance to say why the arbitration panel should believe that he has never doped.
“People are defined by their principles,” he said. “Bicycle racing was rewarding for the fact that I was proud of myself when I put the work in and could see the results. It wouldn’t serve any purpose for me to cheat and win the Tour because I wouldn’t be proud of it.” The hearing resumes today with Landis expected to continue his testimony under cross examination by the USADA’s legal team.