Floyd Landis says he didn't do it -- didn't inject testosterone, didn't apply a testosterone patch to any part of his body. Floyd Landis just returned my call, and I asked him straight up: "Did you do it, bro?"
He said, "No, c'mon man," in what would turn out to be the first of several denials.
I want very badly to believe him.
Landis had been crying. Not for himself -- he'd just gotten off the phone with his mother, Arlene, who has been driven from the family home in Farmersville, Pa., by reporters scavenging for quotes. "I know it's their job," he said, sadly, "but they need to leave her out of this."
The A sample from the urine test to which he submitted after Stage 17 shows "an unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone." Landis told me he "can't be hopeful" that the B sample will be any different than the A. "I'm a realist," he said.
Landis says that an elevated level of testosterone is different from a positive test. He says this is a fairly common problem among pro cyclists. He's retaining the services of a Spanish doctor named Luis Hernandez, who has helped other riders shown by tests to have elevated levels of testosterone. "In hundreds of cases," Landis told me, "no one's ever lost one."
It's too early to tell if he's going to be on solid footing or if he's clutching at straws. The next step, he says, is to submit to an endocrine test that may help him prove that he just happens to be a guy walking around with an inordinate amount of testosterone in his blood.
He raised the possibility that the cortisone shots he's been taking for his ravaged right hip -- the hip he'll soon have replaced -- may have had some effect on the test. Then he revealed this: "I've had a thyroid condition for the last year or so and have been taking small amounts of thyroid hormone. It's an oral dose, once a day."
He raised the possibility that that medication may have skewed the test that appears to damn him.
He knows how bad this looks, and told me, "I wouldn't hold it against somebody if they don't believe me."
I don't know what to believe. I was surprised he returned my call.
"You were there when nobody else was," he told me, "so I thought I'd better call you back."
He was talking about a visit I paid to the team bus a week ago today. The day before -- in what had been his lowest moment in many weeks -- Landis appeared to have ridden himself off the podium and out of the top 10. As the Tour had unfolded, as he'd taken the lead and then relinquished it, then cracked spectacularly, he had not seemed like a rider under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, the French were down on him for racing too conservatively, for not attacking or going for stage wins.
The next morning I went by the Phonak team bus (as I wrote in my Tour dispatch a week ago). It was eerily deserted, Landis having already been dubbed irrelevant. He sat on the steps of the bus and we chatted. After his incredible ride that day, I was a little embarrassed by what I'd said: I told him I respected that he'd finished the stage, no matter how long it took. I told him I looked forward to seeing what he did in the final time trial -- something about silver linings.
He smiled, and told me, basically, that he expected to make up some of that time that afternoon. He told me he was feeling better.
He went out rode himself into the lore of the Tour.