Saturday, August 25, 2007

Positively Floyd

I completed Floyd Landis' book, "Positively False" this week. Let me first make some disclosures: 1) I firmly believe that the French hate the fact that Americans have dominated the TDF for the past 8 years and are hell bent on discrediting us; 2) I am unsure of whether Floyd Landis cheated, but my impression of him from reading his book and from chatting with him for a few minutes atop of Columbine Mine a week before the Leadville 100 (if you're reading this, Floyd, I was one of the two guys that stopped to chat while your training partner changed a flat tire on the Columbine descent on Sunday, August 5th. I told you how great it was that you were riding the LT 100 and sincerely meant that) , is that he is a good dude, someone with whom I would enjoy sitting with, drinking a beer or three, and discussing cycling; 3) I remember a scene from the film "NFL Crunch Course" where an old offensive lineman freely admits (brags), "Hey, we all hold." Like some form of "cheating" is endemic in NFL linemen, I believe the same to be true among professional cyclists. My biases, revealed, read on.

A couple of things surprised me about the book. First, not that I ever doubted the single mindedness of Lance Armstrong, but the anecdotes detailing his intensity and, sometimes, childish irrationality, were eye opening. When you're the best at what you do, there is no need to feel threatened. Enjoy your supremacy, do not use it to demean and/or retard the progress of others. That's called poor sportsmanship. Lance, go soak up some sun, put a 45 on, and chill out. Second, as a practicing attorney (litigator), I find the hearing process used by WADA and USADA very arcane. They are responsible for doling out punishments that adversely affect the livelihoods of cyclists and other athletes, all of whom have a very short professional shelf life. While I find cheating reprehensible, my impression of the "legal process" available to athletes charged with using illicit performance enhancing drugs is that it is lacking in competence, structure, and fairness.

Floyd aptly describes a legal process that is inexorably slanted in favor of the governing body, an agency that he claims (perhaps rightfully) pursues victory at all costs. With limited to no pre-hearing discovery, arbitrators that are pre-selected by the governing body (read conflict of interest), and a dubious set of procedural rules, it is no wonder that athletes are 0'fer against the Man. Floyd laments the fact that unless you have tons of money to afford a top-notch attorney, you are doomed against the USADA. This is where Floyd misses the fact that his microcosmic world of cycling closely mirrors the larger US legal system as a whole. The quality of "justice", unfortunately, is often a factor of ones available resources. That is not to say that our system is rife with corruption. I do not believe that it is. My meaning is that money can buy great lawyers, the best experts, and, as a result, the ability to present a very strong case. I strongly agree with Floyd that the system he describes is broken and in need of a fix.

The book reads as if you were having a casual conversation with Floyd. It is by no means a scholarly work. I believe that was done on purpose to further convey the "folksy" side of Floyd. It makes for an enjoyable, low carb read.

As far as Floyd's defenses, they range in credibility from strong to grasping at straws. The strongest defense appears to be the sloppiness of the work done at the initial French lab. Mis-labeled samples, changed labels etc. begs the question as to whether there was some monkey business in Frogland. (See disclosure #1 above). Variances in T/E ratios are also suspect. It seems very odd that a machine analyzing the same sample would come up with several different ratios. If you shoot a radar gun at the same car traveling the same speed on three separate occasions, the results should be fairly consistent. Anecdotes about the skill level of the lab technicians and magnets attached to the lab's machines were unimpressive to me. Stick with the good stuff, Floyd. The meringue theory of law (throw everything on the wall and at least some of it will stick) dilutes your strong points.

As for my one conspiracy theory, I wonder why Floyd drank/used so many bottles of water (82 by his count) on his historic comeback ride. I know it was hot and that he was riding his legs off. Those are obvious and convenient explanations. I'm wondering if there was some hidden purpose. Was he trying to flush his system of something? Is that even possible? Otherwise, based upon all cyclists knowledge of the testing procedures, you know you will get caught so it is a no win proposition. Is it worth it to win the TDF and all of the benefits that comes with that if it means suffering through the slings and arrows of a positive test? Who knows. I doubt it, but you never know.

My final analysis is that I believe that Floyd Landis trained like a mad man. I believe that he worked his ass off to achieve a level of fitness to win the TDF. I believe that he had the appropriate experience to know how to win the TDF. I believe that his upbringing emphasized hard work, discipline, and the value of simple things like truth and honesty. It is for these reasons, and my bias against the puling French press and cycling authorities, that I want nothing more than to have Floyd vindicated.


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