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Landis fired, denied Tour title

| Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006

PARIS -- The Tour de France no longer calls him champion. His cycling team cut him loose.

About the only chance Floyd Landis has of keeping his prized yellow jersey will now likely be decided by an appeals process that could drag on for months.

Landis was discredited and disowned in short order Saturday when elevated levels of testosterone showed up in his "B" or second doping sample -- as it did in the initial "A" sample released last week.

The samples also contained synthetic testosterone, indicating that it came from an outside source.

If stripped of the title, Landis would become the first winner in the 103-year history of cycling's premier race to lose his Tour crown over doping allegations.

Landis again denied cheating.

"I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone," he said in a statement. "I was the strongest man at the Tour de France, and that is why I am the champion.

"I will fight these charges with the same determination and intensity that I bring to my training and racing. It is now my goal to clear my name and restore what I worked so hard to achieve."

The International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, said it would ask USA Cycling to open disciplinary proceedings. Documentation from the positive tests will be forwarded to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which will turn it over to a review panel. USADA will ultimately decide if a penalty -- likely a two-year ban -- is appropriate. Landis can accept the decision or begin an appeals process, which can take up to six months and involve the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest said Landis would officially remain Tour champion pending that process. The decision to strip him of his title rests with UCI.

"Until he is found guilty or admits guilt, he will keep the yellow jersey," he said. "This is normal. You are not sanctioned before you are found guilty."

But the Tour itself wasted no time in distancing itself from the American.

"It goes without saying that for us Floyd Landis is no longer the winner of the 2006 Tour de France," race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press.

Prudhomme said runner-up Oscar Pereiro likely would be declared the new winner.

"We can't imagine a different outcome," he said.

Reached in his hometown of Vigo, Spain, Pereiro saw it shaping up that way, too.

"Now I consider myself the winner," he said, while acknowledging that the final decision was up to the UCI and subject to a legal challenge by Landis.

Pereiro said he regretted not being able to celebrate properly -- in Paris, wearing the winner's yellow jersey.

"I would have liked to have lived that day, it would have been the best day of my life, as a sportsman," he said.

Pereiro also felt bad for Landis.

"I consider him my friend; it surprised me and hurt me to hear what had happened to him," he said.

The results of the second test come just two weeks after Landis, a 30-year-old former mountain biker, proudly stood atop the winner's podium on the Champs-Elysees, waving to thousands who cheered him on.

Within 45 minutes of the "B" sample announcement, the Swiss-based team Phonak fired its captain for "violating the teams internal Code of Ethics."

Phonak stood by Tyler Hamilton throughout his blood-doping case two years ago; Landis, however, is getting no support.

"This will be his personal affair, and the Phonak team will no longer be involved," a statement said.

Testosterone, a male sex hormone, helps build muscle and improve stamina. The urine tests were done July 20 after Landis' Stage 17 victory during a grueling Alpine leg, when he regained nearly eight minutes against then-leader Pereiro -- and went on to win the three-week race.

Both of Landis' "A" and "B" samples turned up a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio of 11:1 -- far in excess of the 4:1 limit.

Jacques De Ceaurriz, the Chatenay-Malabray chief, said the synthetic testosterone was found in isotope testing.

"It's foolproof. This analysis tells the difference between endogenous and exogenous," he told the AP. "No error is possible in isotopic readings."

Landis spokesman Michael Henson disputed that, and the cyclist's attorney, Spanish lawyer Jose Maria Buxeda, said, "It doesn't end here."

Landis and his defense team have offered various explanations for the high testosterone reading -- including cortisone shots taken for pain in Landis' degenerating hip; drinking beer and whiskey the night before; thyroid medication; and his natural metabolism.

Another theory -- dehydration -- was rebuffed by anti-doping experts.

"It's incredibly disappointing," three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond said by phone from the starting line at the Pan Mass Challenge in Sturbridge, Mass. "I don't think he has much chance at all to try to prove his innocence.

"When I heard it was synthetic hormone, it is almost impossible to be caused by natural events. It's kind of a downer," said LeMond, the first American to win the Tour. "I feel for Floyd's family. I hope Floyd will come clean on it and help the sport. We need to figure out how to clean the sport up, and we need the help of Floyd."

In Murrieta, Calif., where Landis lives, an AP reporter was asked by police to leave the gated community when she attempted to approach his house. Several cars were parked in front, and the blinds were drawn.

A man who said he was a friend of the family, but didn't want his name used, answered the phone at the Landis' house and confirmed the cyclist was there.

Despite the latest test results, a sign at a nearby freeway exit said, "Welcome Home Floyd Landis, 2006 Tour de France Winner."

In Lancaster County, where Landis was raised in a conservative Mennonite home, neighbors vowed their support.

"All he has accomplished, he has attained through his hard work and discipline. We are very confident he will prove his innocence," said Tammy Martin, a longtime family friend.

Paul and Arlene Landis, who have supported their son since the doping scandal began, were out of town on a previously scheduled vacation.

A sign posted on their front yard said, "God Bless, Went Camping."

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