Phonak terminates Tour winner's contract
Floyd Landis came one step closer to losing his 2006 Tour de France title when the UCI announced on Saturday that a counter-analysis of an earlier anti-doping control also came back positive. A UCI communiqué* said that analysis of the so-called “B” sample, conducted at France’s national anti-doping laboratory at Châtenay-Malabry, confirmed the original “adverse analytical finding” of urine samples taken after Landis’ remarkable Stage 17 victory into Morzine. In keeping with anti-doping procedures, the UCI has formally requested that the USA Cycling open disciplinary action against the Californian. The national governing body has delegated its authority in doping cases involving American riders to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and a review process could take several weeks to months.
Since news of the positive first broke just days after his Tour victory, the 30-year-old Landis has said that he expected the “B” sample to confirm the initial positive result, but has also maintained his innocence, attributing the unusual results to natural processes. “I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone. I was the strongest man in the Tour de France, and that is why I am the champion,” said Landis in a statement released after the UCI announcement. “I will fight these charges with the same determination and intensity that I bring to my training and racing. It is now my goal to clear my name and restore what I worked so hard to achieve.”
Landis, 30, could become the first Tour winner to have his overall victory stripped because of a doping violation (the top four finishers of the 1904 Tour de France were disqualified for cheating). Landis faces a two-year ban from cycling, an additional two years from riding in the ProTour ranks and the loss of his Tour win. Until any formal action is taken by USADA, Landis will officially remain the Tour winner, though runner-up Oscar Pereiro told a news conference in Spain on Saturday that he now considers himself the winner. Shared responsibilities
Christophe Prudhomme, the Tour de France race director, said he was not in the least bit surprised by the “B” sample findings but added that responsibility also lay with the American’s team, Phonak, has endured a series of high-profile doping cases in the past few years, including Landis’ compatriot Tyler Hamilton.
“The real body blow came last week,” Prudhomme told the French news agency AFP. “I knew in my gut that the ‘B’ sample would confirm the initial result.”
Prudhomme said he was disappointed and reaffirmed a commitment “to do battle against drugs.”
“We cannot tolerate the yellow jersey being soiled,” he said. “Taking the Landis case into account, it is imperative that the managers, the team directors, the doctors or indeed those who pretend to be doctors are also punished.”
Meanwhile, World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound called the news “a nightmare for cycling.”
“When you think that the second, third and fourth finishers in the Tour de France 2005 get busted in the Spanish investigation, and this year’s winner now is tested positive, you got a sport that is in crisis,” Pound continued. “Cycling runs the risks that its fans will disappear and conclude that they are really not watching a genuine race, they are watching to see whose pharmacists are the best.”
Following the UCI announcement, Landis’s contract with Phonak was formally terminated, the Swiss team confirmed.
“The Phonak Cycling Team has learned today from the International Cycling Union (UCI) that team captain Floyd Landis’s ‘B’ sample has also resulted in a positive finding of doping,” the team said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. “As a result, Landis will be dismissed without notice for violating the teams internal Code of Ethics.”
While supporting Landis’s right of appeal in the case, the team noted that “this will be his personal affair and the Phonak team will no longer be involved in that.”
The American is only the latest in a series of Phonak riders to fail anti-doping tests since early 2004, when former world champion Oscar Camenzind tested positive for EPO. Camenzind admitted his guilt and retired from the sport. Later that year, Olympic gold medalist Hamilton and Vuelta a España runner-up Santiago Perez became the first – and thus far, only – athletes to be found positive for using donor blood to boost their endurance.
Following the Hamilton case, the team underwent a major management shakeup, hiring former Tour de France official John Lelangue as team manager, in an effort to preserve its ProTour status.
But doping problems have continued to plague the team even under Lelangue’s management. Sascha Urweider was sacked by the team after he also tested positive for excess testosterone in February. The 25 year-old Swiss cyclist was banned by the Swiss Olympic federation for two years.
More recently, the team also suspended two of its riders – Jose Enrique Gutierrez and Santiago Botero – for their alleged involvement in the Operación Puerto doping case.
Team owner Andy Rihs, also chairman and CEO of Phonak Hearing Systems, said he was now examining the consequences of the Landis affair. He and Lelangue are scheduled to hold a press conference in the next few days to outline the consequences the doping scandal may have on ARcycling, which runs the team.
Phonak is expected to scale back its role with the team at the end of the season. The financial-services company iShares is expected to assume title sponsorship .
While Rihs has professed a commitment to anti-doping efforts, he has also quite candidly conceded that even adverse publicity has not hurt his company’s bottom line.
“People around the globe automatically associate Phonak with hearing aids and that’s solely because of cycling,” Rihs told VeloNews during this year’s Tour de France. “We have become a real brand. Doping does not diminish that effect at all. In a way, I am glad that there is so much talk about doping in cycling, because it deters big corporations. If they would invest in cycling I wouldn’t be able to afford it anymore. And, let’s face it – in professional sports, where there is a lot of money involved, you need medical support.”
Urine samples taken after Landis’s stunning victory on Stage 17 into Morzine revealed an “unusual” testosterone/epitestosterone ratio, which Landis’ doctors confirmed as being at 11 to 1. No tests have shown whether that ratio was the result of high levels of testosterone or unusually low levels of epitestosterone.
A 4:1 T/E ratio is the threshold at which additional analysis is required. Part of that additional analysis is the application of a new test – Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) – designed to distinguish natural testosterone from that introduced from exogenous sources. According to various sources, Landis’s “A” sample showed signs that some of the testosterone came from an outside source. Pierre Bordry, who heads the French anti-doping council, said Saturday that the lab found evidence of testosterone from exogenous sources in Landis’ urine.
“I have received a text message from Chatenay-Malabry lab that indicates the ‘B’ sample of Floyd Landis’ urine confirms testosterone was taken in an exogenous way,” Bordry told The Associated Press.
Jacques De Ceaurriz, head of the Chatenay-Malabray lab, called the testing procedure totally reliable.
“It’s foolproof. This analysis tells the difference between endogenous and exogenous,” he told the AP. “No error is possible in isotopic readings.”
Landis spokesman Michael Henson disputed that.
“There is no conclusive evidence that shows that this test can show definitively the presence of exogenous testosterone,” Henson said.
Landis has denied allegations that he took any banned doping products, and attorneys working on the case have promised a full-scale challenge to the science behind the CIR test. Landis’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, said he expects the case to be resolved within four to six months.
“At this point in time, I am waiting to receive the full laboratory documentation for the ‘B’ test. In consultation with some of the leading medical and scientific experts, we will prove that Floyd Landis’s victory in the 2006 Tour de France was not aided in any respect by the use of any banned substances,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs said he will also try to make a case against the UCI’s “premature release of the ‘A’ sample findings as well as the anonymous leak of the carbon-isotope test results to The New York Times on July 31.”
“I call on the UCI to start following its own rules and to allow this process to proceed without the further taint of public comment by UCI officials,” said Jacobs. “The anti-doping process must be free from the perception that sports federations and anti-doping authorities, who hold great political and financial sway over sport, are attempting to influence the outcome of a pending case by issuing inappropriate public comments.”
*The UCI issued the following announcement on Saturday.
THE ADVERSE ANALYTICAL FINDING FROM FLOYD LANDIS IS CONFIRMEDThe UCI communicates that the analysis of the sample B of Floyd Landis’s urine has confirmed the result of an adverse analytical finding notified by the Anti-doping laboratory of Paris on 26th July, following the analysis of the sample A.In accordance to the Anti-doping rules, the Anti-doping Commission of the UCI will request that the USA Cycling Federation open a disciplinary procedure against the rider.
UCI Press Service
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