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Floyd = Cycling's Fast One pulling a fast one?

August 10, 2006|by ANDY MASON

Floyd=Fast.

That's what a cap I purchased off the Internet in the summer of 2004 reads.

I mentioned that cap in a column I wrote last summer. Afterward, I actually received an e-mail from a reader asking me where he could buy one, too.

That's how contagious the Floyd Landis vibe was.

His story was almost too good to be true - a Mennonite boy who pedaled his bicycle so feverishly that it eventually carried him all the way from Lancaster County, Pa., to the Tour de France.

I first heard about Landis during his first Tour in 2002, when he helped U.S. Postal teammate Lance Armstrong win his fourth straight title. I've been a huge fan ever since.

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That's why I felt like a ninth-grader calling to ask out a girl as I dialed the telephone one afternoon this past May. I was nervous about what I'd say, and somewhat fearful of rejection.

After a few rings, Floyd Landis answered his cell phone in Italy. His manner and tone instantly put me at ease as he politely asked if I could call back in an hour.

I called him back an hour later, and we talked for 35 minutes. I interviewed him for a freelance piece I wrote for the July issue of Pittsburgh Sports Report.

Landis couldn't have been more cooperative. He was friendly, witty, humble and, most of all, very confident about his chances to ride into Paris on July 23 in the champion's yellow jersey.

From the edge of my couch, I followed on TV nearly every kilometer of his victorious three-week journey.

When Landis recaptured the yellow jersey in Stage 15, I was ready to celebrate the overall victory. When he bonked the next day and fell to 11th place, more than 8 minutes back, I barely had the energy to get off my couch. When he nearly gained all the time back the next day in Stage 17, I declared it the greatest athletic performance I'd ever seen.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what to think. Since finding out that Landis' urine sample taken immediately after his dramatic Stage 17 comeback tested positive for a high testosterone ratio, my opinion has swayed back and forth, mostly because he adamantly says he's innocent.

A small part of me thinks the grueling bike race might be impossible to win these days without illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. And because of that, if Floyd did cheat, it probably wasn't the first time and he certainly wasn't the only one - just the unlucky one who got caught, most likely due to carelessness.

But cheating is one thing. Repeatedly lying about it is quite another.

Call me naive and gullible, but Landis just doesn't seem like that kind of liar. That's why the big part of me believes him.

"We are facing an entire criminal organization," Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said in an interview with a Swiss newspaper at the very beginning of the Tour last month. "We need the police and additional scientific means. I have the feeling we are dealing with a true mafia that's looking to make money, that fakes races. We are on the edge of criminality here."

Floyd=Framed.




Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com.

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