Floyd Landis lost the 2006 Tour de France on stage 16 with a spectacular and humiliating collapse on the final climb in a long alpine stage. He came back the next day and did what no one imagined possible, riding a solo attack across the Alps that shocked those who left him for dead the day before. He won the Tour in the race’s final time trial and got his victory lap on the Champs Elysees. And then… . Well, you know all that. A urine sample taken after the thrilling stage win showed an unusually high level of testosterone. Something like a trial was held, and the verdict is in: 14 months after his apparent triumph, Landis’s tests have been ruled reliable and he appears to have lost the ’06 Tour once and for all. Unless he files and wins and appeal or contemplates a comeback in his late mid-30s, his career as a professional cyclist is over, too.
It’s a bad business. I’m not well versed in the case evidence. But I don’t want to believe Landis doped, and circumstantially the case against him — the very idea that he would cheat at that juncture of the race — never made sense to me and still doesn’t. The system in place to prosecute Landis and others is flawed simply by its presumption of guilt; essentially, it presents riders with test results and challenges them to prove they’re not right. So, in the absence of a “Shoeless Joe” moment — me: “Say it ain’t so, Floyd”; him: “I’m afraid it is, kid” — I think I’ll always see Landis the way he was on that one amazing day, bursting from the pack and overtaking and dropping one rider after another until, finally, he rode alone over the last mountain. He crossed the line at 5:10 p.m., or 1710 in the 24-hour time scheme the French use.
There’s a little movement afoot, promoted mostly by Trust But Verify, I guess — for fans and supporters to hoist their libation of choice in Floyd’s honor at 5:10 p.m. today, wherever you happen to be. I’ll be doing that.