Friday, May 18, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

Oh. My. God.

It all starts sanely enough. Floyd Landis finally gets his day in court, and the case begins to unfold before an arbitration panel. The question at hand is a very technical one, and no one in the media is paying close attention to the arguments, with the exception of a handful of obsessives. [raising hand] I admit to some curiosity. If it can be proved that the labs were grossly negligent, then the positive test result is called into question. The first three and a half days of testimony are fairly routine. Dull as dust, but going pretty well for Landis and company. They make a few salient points. LNDD's chain of custody is pretty shoddy. They have a fairly relaxed understanding of blind testing, and when it comes to the press they leak like a sieve. Does any of this seriously compromise the test results? That's for the arbitrators to decide. Be that as it may, things were looking pretty good for Team Landis.

But then, things gurgled noisily down the toilet when Greg LeMond took the stand.

Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, and one of only eight riders to win it three times or more. His reputation has suffered of late because of numerous criticisms he's laid against Lance Armstrong. Nevertheless, he knows wherefrom he speaks, and he cannot be dismissed out of hand.

What he actually had to say was not especially interesting, in a sense, since LeMond claimed months and months ago that Landis had implicitly admitted doping in a private phone call. This much is old news, old enough that I'd forgotten it. The bombshell was that, the night before, Landis' business manager had left LeMond a voice mail, obviously intended to intimidate LeMond. I shan't go into the sordid details of that message, they're easy enough to find if you're interested. But the implications are shocking. And it's made me think.

This is a huge unforced error for Landis' team. Greg LeMond is a cyclist, not a scientist, and can not possibly have anything to say relevant to laboratory testing protocols and procedures. So why bother contacting him at all? Especially when your case seems to be going well so far? Mind you, the bombshell does bugger-all to further USADA's case. Yes, it was a reprehensible and dishonorable thing to have done. Yes, it was a felony under California law.Yes, it proves conclusively that Landis' manager is dumber than a bag of hammers. Yes, LeMond's testimony might be thrown out anyway as being irrelevant to the case. But...

It makes me think back to that day in July, and look more critically at what took place.

Testosterone has a fairly short half-life within the body. The kidneys process out any excess fairly rapidly, generally in a few hours. This short half-life is what cheaters rely on. If you only use a little bit, and drink plenty of water, the evidence is left on a roadside somewhere. And, testosterone use actually does have some short-term benefits: it increases aggressiveness, and energy.

Looking back, what I remember seeing was a man on fire, face lined with rage, drinking a seemingly endless supply of water. "Hydrating like King Neptune" was a phrase I remember a commentator using that day.

Well, hell. The circumstantial evidence starts to look pretty bad at this point, doesn't it?

Which means exactly squat, as far as the hearing goes. The hearing isn't about the circumstantial aspect, it's about the physical evidence, and the test results. But now, even if he wins the hearing, Landis' public relations case has taken a hit at the waterline.

Because, seeing what I've seen and knowing what I know, it's awfully hard for me to come to any other conclusion but that he's guilty as charged.

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