Posted: Thursday July 27, 2006 3:46PM; Updated: Friday July 28, 2006 12:30PM
Austin Murphy will answer questions from SI.com users.
Anyone who follows this sport and professes to be blindsided by allegations of this nature risks sounding like Captain Renault in Casablanca ("I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to find that gambling is going on in here!"). You wonder sometimes if, in cycling, the clean riders are not, in fact, the minority. The purge that marked the start of this race -- 13 riders were ejected after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation called Operación Puerto -- confirmed cycling's status as one of the dirtiest sports in the world.
But there was this hope -- was it naive, Floyd? -- that les coureurs that they didn't kick out were riding clean. And Landis had such a wholesome, heroic story: the rebel from Pennsylvania Dutch country who carved a career for himself despite tall odds -- the disapproving parents; the three teams that folded beneath him, felled by bankruptcy; the bum hip, which caused him so much pain that after some stages last year, he came close to vomiting.
Even before Landis finished Stage 17, when he pulled back most of the time he had lost the previous day, the whispers had begun. Allen Lim, Landis' trainer, took pains in the days that followed to point out that the effort put forth by Landis in that heroic, Tour-saving stage was generally in line with "what he's done in training." The anomaly had been the bonk the previous day.
Then you read what German doctor Kurt Moosburger recently told Cyclingnews.com: "You can do a hard Alpine stage without doping. But after that, the muscles are exhausted. You need -- depending on your training conditions -- up to three days in order to regenerate."
To help recover, testosterone and human growth hormone can be used. "Both are made by the body and are therefore natural substances," he said. "They help to build muscle as well as in muscle recovery."
Dr. Moosburger explained how it was done. "You put a standard testosterone patch that is used for male hormone-replacement therapy on your scrotum and leave it there for about six hours. The small dose is not sufficient to produce a positive urine result in the doping test, but the body actually recovers faster."
It would be funny -- if it weren't heartbreaking -- to think that as he sat outside the team hotel last Wednesday night, explaining his collapse, Landis was already getting a little help from a patch on a tender part of his anatomy.
So I flat-out asked him if he'd done the patch thing, and he told me he hadn't. All he can do now is wait for the B sample and, after that, hope another test proves that he's in a very elevated percentile of men, who go through life with more than their share of testosterone.
Meanwhile, I've got this passage in my Tour story in this week's Sports Illustrated: "Landis' epic ride on July 19 did not just succeed beyond all expectations, putting him in striking distance of the lead, which he seized for good in the Tour's final time trial two days later. It provided a gleaming counterweight to the doping scandal that had overshadowed this Tour since the day before it began."
Gleaming counterweight. That phrase will mock me for months, if not longer, unless Landis is able to convince us that it's all a great misunderstanding.
Floyd says he didn't do it, and I want very badly to believe him.