Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond testified under oath Thursday that Floyd Landis implicitly admitted to illegal doping during a 36-minute phone conversation the pair had last August.
LeMond also testified that he received what he characterized as a threatening phone call from a member of the Landis team on the eve of his testimony on the Pepperdine University campus in Malibu, California.
According to LeMond, Landis called him in August to ask why the former Tour champ had been so publicly vocal in the days after it was reported that Landis’s A sample from stage 17 of the Tour had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. LeMond made numerous TV appearances in the aftermath, and spoke in general terms about why he thought Landis should come clean if he had in fact doped at the 2006 Tour de France.
“At first, I didn’t believe it was him,” said LeMond during direct questioning from USADA attorney Matt Barnett. “I was shocked he was calling me only because I thought it was a prank phone call. I confirmed it was really him and he asked why I would be making these public comments.”
LeMond explained that he told Landis that if he did have a positive that it was a devastating thing for the sport.
“I was very clear that I didn’t judge that he did or didn’t because the B sample wasn’t positive at the time,” LeMond continued, adding that he told Landis that he could “single handedly salvage the sport” by “[coming] clean.”Landis, according to LeMond, responded, “What good would it do?” then added that if he did “it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people.”
LeMond went on to reveal that he told Landis that keeping dark secrets can ruin one’s life, then relayed his own story of being sexually abused as a child, a story LeMond said he had shared with only a few people and never talked about publicly until Thursday.
“I was sexually abused before I got into cycling it nearly destroyed me,” LeMond said, adding he told Landis that he should come clean because, “This will come back to haunt you when you are 40 or 50…this will destroy you.
“He was very defensive when he called me. After we talked, it seemed to both of us that we had a lot more in common. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t accuse him. I hoped for his sake that the B sample came back negative. I felt like he was a good person in a very bad sport that needs some hard cleaning up.”
There was also talk of a now famous Internet posting reportedly made by Landis on the Web site dailypeloton.com, which Barnett produced a written copy of. An excerpt: “I used to believe that a private call was the best way to deal with public slander. I have subsequently learned that the phone call will become public and the contents thereof misconstrued into whatever fits.”A full text version of the post can be seen at citebite.com.
The drama continued when LeMond, under direct questioning from Barnett, said he received a phone call Wednesday night from a mysterious caller, who identified himself only as “Uncle Ron.”
LeMond said he was perplexed at first, but that changed to concern when the caller made direct references to the conversation about sexual abuse that he had with Landis last August.“He said ‘Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I’m going to be there tomorrow,’” LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.’ I got the picture right away that there are very few people who know about that. I figured this was intimidation.”
The three-time Tour champ said the caller then hung up, and when LeMond redialed he got a voicemail message identifying the call recipient as “Will.”
LeMond said he tried calling back three more times, finally getting an answer from someone who identified himself only as “Bill.” The conversation was inconclusive, so LeMond hung up and then called the police. A subsequent check of the number saved on LeMond’s mobile phone showed that it belonged to Landis’s business manager Will Geoghegan.
USADA counsel Barnett then pointed out Geoghegan who was present in the courtroom, seated directly behind the Landis legal team. Geoghegan is a long-time friend of Landis, and the two were once mountain-bike teammates before Landis made the switch to road racing.
Barnett proceeded to place a police report against Geoghegan on the courtroom’s overhead projector. As in most states, witness tampering is a felony in California. Meanwhile, Landis defense team lead attorney Maurice Suh spent several minutes conferring with Geoghegan, whose face and neck were noticeably red.
Throughout it all, Landis sat off to the left of his legal team, a blank expression on his face. The ’06 Tour champ was dressed in all black (tie, shirt and suit), following three days during which he had sported a yellow tie. Landis had said privately he would wear black if and when LeMond testified.
Barnett stepped aside, and the floor was turned to Landis attorney Howard Jacobs. Jacobs quickly trained his line of questioning to the very public dispute LeMond has had with seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong. This brought a quick objection from USADA’s Barnett, who claimed the Armstrong-LeMond squabble and testimony LeMond gave in a civil case between Armstrong and a Texas-based insurance company had no bearing on the matters in Malibu.
LeMond’s own attorney, Bruce Manning, was also present at the hearing, and he told the three-person arbitration panel that he would not permit his client to speak about the Armstrong matter.
Jacobs countered by asking the panel to strike all of LeMond’s testimony if he could not pursue the line of questioning. That led the panel to call a 15-minute recess to discuss what course to take.
When the hearing reconvened, Jacobs continued to ask LeMond questions about the Armstrong case. But nothing had changed, with Manning rising from his seat on several occasions to reaffirm that his client would not speak on any matter relating to Armstrong.
The constant objections from Manning drew the ire of Jacobs who at one point said the “proceedings become a farce if I can’t get answers for this line of questioning” and that “it was completely unfair.”
Arbitrator Richard McLaren discounted Jacobs’s remark about fairness, but asked LeMond to step down if he wouldn’t cooperate. LeMond leaned into the microphone and asked if he could say one more thing, but was emphatically told no.
The Landis team then repeated its request to have LeMond’s testimony struck from the record, but were told by McLaren that a decision would not be made immediately and that they needed to submit a written request.
LeMond briefly sat down in the gallery, then walked out along with wife Kathy and attorney Manning. That sent most of the gathered press scurrying for the door in hopes of catching a word with LeMond.
Back in the courtroom, the second public firing was about to take place (remember the inept French-English interpreter on Tuesday). This time it was Geoghegan, who was briefly called to the witness stand, but stepped down when Jacobs successfully argued that his team needed more time to prepare for Geoghegan’s testimony.
Moments later Landis attorney Suh announced to the panel that, “To the extent there has been any business relationship between Mr. Landis and Mr. Geoghegan, I would like to inform the panel that Mr. Landis has made the determination that Mr. Geoghegan’s services are no longer required and they have separated their agreement as of this moment. And so Mr. Geoghegan is now terminated from the previous position he’s had with Mr. Landis.”
USADA’s Barnett asked for a clarification as to what exactly that role was, to which Suh answered, “He had served in the capacity as business manager at times prior to today. I’m still not sure exactly what the status was as of the last minute but we have decided to terminate all business relationships between Mr. Landis and Mr. Geoghegan as of today… as of right now.”
Out in hall at least a dozen members of the press had gathered in front of the USADA witness room, waiting for LeMond to emerge. The crowd barely looked up when Geoghegan shuffled past and out the back door.
Moments later LeMond emerged, and while his attorney was clearly ready to leave the Pepperdine campus, America’s first Tour champ held court with the media for several minutes. He said that Geoghegan tried to apologize to him but he still planned on pursuing the matter with the police. LeMond also addressed Landis. “I think if you read what he posted about me, I think there’s another side of Floyd the public has not seen,” he said. “It shows the extent of either their ignorance, their lack of intelligence or who they really are.”
This certainly isn’t the first time LeMond has made over-the-top statements or been in the middle of controversy, and it’s hard to know exactly what impact his testimony will have on the final outcome. Stayed tuned to velonews.com for day five of the Landis hearing on Friday, when the panel’s decision on LeMond’s testimony is revealed, and another former cyclist, Joe Papp, takes the witness stand.
Before the storm
Prior to all the drama around LeMond’s appearance, it was another tedious morning of scientific testimony. Thursday’s morning session kicked off with testimony from USADA witness Claire Frelat, an analytical chemist at the Laboratoire National du Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD) outside Paris. Frelat carried out the analysis on Landis’s B sample from stage 17, finding it positive and setting in motion the events that has culminated in this arbitration hearing.
After brief direct questioning from the USADA legal team that focused on establishing the legitimacy of Frelat’s credentials and the methods she used to carry out testing, the floor was passed to Suh. Landis’s lead attorney quickly tried to undo both Frelat’s qualifications and competence in what became one of the most lively exchanges during the first four days of pre-LeMond testimony.
Frelat came to the LNDD fresh out of college in 2001, but she wasn’t promoted to her current post as a special analyst chemist in Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry until February 2006. That meant she only had six months of experience with the machine that tagged Landis as a doper just days after the conclusion of last summer’s Tour.
Frelat was also involved in the reprocessing of seven Landis B samples last month. None of the corresponding A samples had triggered an adverse T/E ratio when tested last summer, but when put under closer scrutiny of IRMS, four returned positives. Those results have become the centerpiece of the USADA case, and a major hurdle for Landis and his four-man legal team. Landis, 31, must convince the three-person arbitration panel he did not use synthetic testosterone or he’ll become the first Tour champion to be stripped of his title for doping. It would also mean a two-year racing ban, plus a further two-year exclusion from ProTour teams. Since its formation in 2000, USADA has never lost an illegal doping case once it has reach an arbitration hearing, going 34-0.
The Landis hearing will run through May 23, and it will be at least another two weeks before a verdict is rendered. But no matter the outcome in California, this is likely just a stopping off point on the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, whose ruling will be final.
Also overshadowed by the drama was USADA witness Christiane Ayotte, who runs the WADA lab in Montreal. She was brought in to sign off on both the accuracy of the test and the methods employed at the French lab.
At one point Ayotte was asked if the Landis samples would have been declared positive in her lab.
“Yes, it’s so very clear,” she said. “A no-doubt situation.”
Eddy opts out
It appears LeMond and Landis will be the only former Tour de France champion appearing at the hearing. Five-time winner Eddy Merckx is listed as a potential witness for the Landis side, but the Belgian news agency Belga reported Thursday that Merckx would not be traveling to California. “What would I be going to do there?” Merckx said to Belga. “I know nothing about this case, and I don’t see what there is about it that I could help clear up. I even wonder why they invited me to come testify. I am completely extraneous to this story, and as far as that goes, I don’t want to be mixed up in it, not up close, not at a distance. I have nothing to say about it, and I will therefore not go to testify.”
On the witness list Merckx was dubbed a “world-class cyclist and expert in cycling tactics,” and the expectation is that he might be called to explain Landis’s improbable ride on stage 17, when he went on an improbable solo breakaway and thrust himself back into overall contention. But with four samples not associated with stage 17 showing positive readings, it’s likely a Merckx testimony wouldn’t have had much value even if he did show up in Malibu.
If the Landis side does choose to explain stage 17, they still have Allen Lim waiting in the wings. The exercise physiologist has worked extensively with Landis, and has been sitting in the gallery all week. The notion is that Lim would be asked to verify Landis’s ability to sustain certain power output levels, which would validate his ride to Morzine last July when he thrust himself back into title contention.