We are willing to consider the possibility, thin though it may be, that the Tour de France and the bicycling establishment (as ridiculous a concert as that is) is trying to screw Floyd Landis. We are even willing to hear him out as he moves to his fifth defense for the positive doping test.
|Floyd Landis toured the morning show circuit Monday morning explaining himself -- again. (AP)|
At this point, though, Landis is complaining about the leaks (no pun intended) and not the science, which still leaves him having to explain how his results varied so widely after Stage 17. Even without a biochemistry degree, we know that it doesn't work that way. And since we also know that the International Cycling Union has been on this anti-doping binge of late, even a Hostess Twinkie With Extra Cialis For That Late Night Burst Of Energy was contra-indicated, for Landis or anyone else.
So he's guilty of being inadvertently stupid if you want to take the benign view. Or preposterously naïve, if you want to take the conspiratorial view. Or just plain busted, if you want to take the evidentiary view. Whatever.
The broader view, though, is this: Landis doesn't have a convincing defense for what he is really responsible for, namely, reducing a fringe sport to a guilty pleasure, like boxing, figure skating, gymnastics or pro wrestling.
That's guilty pleasure, as in "I know Don King's a weasel, but I just like watching men hit each other," or, "I know the judges are drunk, dishonest or both, but I just like watching girls throw themselves in the air," or "I know about the abusive coaches and obsessed parents and damaged menstrual cycles and all that, but I still like watching girls throw themselves in the air," or "I know the refs aren't very good, but I have to watch something when the kids are glued to Pimp My Ride. "
Cycling is now one of those sports, one that can only be enjoyed while keeping ones dukes up for the predictable onslaught of abuse from outworlders. Of course it is a sport riddled with chemical cheating and amoral creeps and opportunistic thugs, and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply ignoring the metric tons of evidence.
But there are people who still enjoy it for all the cringing they have to do when explaining themselves, and even if you want to take the libertarian argument that athletes should put whatever they want in their bodies, you still have to acknowledge that this is the fast lane to losing the audience. If it starts getting too uncomfortable to enjoy a pastime, most folks just find a new one.
See, for example, poker, which doesn't have a competitive drug problem (yet) and has the added benefit of excluding any form of exercise whatsoever. It may not be a sport, but nobody's testing positive for anything worse than gin and tonics, and gin is by no means a performance enhancer here.
So whatever happens with Floyd Landis, he isn't going to be able to use the "They're Screwing Me" defense that worked to an extent for Armstrong. Unless he can show that the science is wrong, that he really was clean, the leaking is the least of his worries. He has to show he was drug-free, not just that the French don't like him.
And good luck with that, Floyd. May you find a story that eventually works.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.