Floyd's Folly? Landis Asks for Chance to Prove His Innocence

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jul 28, 2006 11:49 AM

Floyd Landis is planning a news conference for today after his test results came back positive for doping in the Tour de France:

The office of Landis's lawyer, Jose Maria Buxeda, told The Associated Press that a news conference with the cyclist will be held at 11:30 a.m. EDT in the Spanish capital.

Landis denied any wrongdoing in a teleconference with reporters on Thursday and vowed to clear his name.

"All I'm asking for is that I be given a chance to prove I'm innocent," he said.

Asked repeatedly what might have tripped his test, Landis refused to lay blame on any one thing.

"As to what actually caused it on that particular day, I can only speculate," he said.

The head of the world cycling governing body has promised a "cruse" against doping, but adds, "we have to wait for the B sample before we can start the sanctioning process."

This is really interesting. A science blogger goes into some of the specifics about steroid testing. Isn't it telling that it's the blogger that gives us the fascinating insight, not the MSM? And, isn't it telling that I'm not surprised?

First of all, you should know that testing for anabolic steroids can sometimes be difficult because many of the steroids and hormones that athletes use are naturally occuring in the body. One of these hormones that is regularly abused is testosterone, the primary androgenizing hormone in humans. Testosterone abuse causes increases in muscle mass with or without exercise. How would we test athletes for use of testosterone? Well the straightforward solution would be to just measure their testosterone levels in blood or urine, but that actually doesn't work because there is a relatively large variability between individuals in basal levels of testosterone.

Instead what anti-doping authorities use is the testosterone to epitestosterone ratio. Epitestosterone is a breakdown product of other hormones. It has never been really associated with a particular biological activity (although some research suggests that it is has an antiandrogenic effect). Until recently it wasn't even known what enzyme produced epitestosterone, but recent research suggests that it is made from DHEA using an enzyme called 17 alpha hydroxy-steroid dehydrogenase, mostly in the liver...

What epitestosterone does and why it is there doesn't really matter though. What does matter is that the ratio in an individual between testosterone and epitestosterone is relatively constant over time and does not show large variability between individuals. Therefore when testosterone is added artificially, the ratio between the two would go up and this can be detected. For Caucasians the ratio is 2 or less with Asian people having a slightly lower ratio. The arbitrary limit that anti-doping agencies set for what would constitute an unacceptable ratio is 6...

Floyd Landis has failed one test of T/E ratio. This presumably means that his ratio was above 6.

OK so what now? What is going to happen about to Floyd Landis? Well, the authorities have indicated that he has other samples that will be retested. This could be to confirm the other result was not contaminated with something. The authorities may also want to take more samples to see if this result reflects a normal baseline ratio for him -- the ratio should be consistent over time and in some cases a pathological state could result in a high ratio...

There is a very legitimate question related to the timing of the positive test. Floyd Landis tested positive on day 17 of the Tour de France -- right before he made a miraculous comeback to retake the lead. Some people may speculate that testosterone may have helped him do this. This is unlikely to be the case. Testosterone is used during training periods to gain muscle mass. It is not a stimulant like amphetamines. It is not likely that testosterone would improve performance on such a short time scale, nor has it ever been shown to have that effect.

There's a lot more there that will put this into context. Really good stuff.

Apparently, Landis will know the test results in Sample B by Monday.

American Daily jokes that, of course he has abnormally high testosterone levels, compared to the French!

His friends and family are coming to his defense:

Kay does not believe Landis knowingly took a banned substance.

“This is a guy who won't take pain medication after surgery,” Kay said. “I've watched him bleeding on the living-room floor after (hip) surgery. I've known the guy as a doctor and friend for four years. No, I wouldn't expect Floyd to be taking anything.”

During a teleconference call late yesterday afternoon, Landis was pointedly asked to explain how he could recover so quickly after his disappointing 16th-stage performance last week.

Suffering from fatigue, Landis dropped from first to 11th on the 16th stage, falling 8 minutes, 8 seconds behind the leader. He rebounded with a stirring solo ride a day later, winning his only stage to pull within 30 seconds of the lead.

“Listen, there are 20 stages in the Tour,” Landis said. “Every day you see a fabulous performance, so explain the other 19.”

Only one other time during the conference call did Landis react angrily, and that came when he criticized reporters for confronting his parents in Farmersville, Pa.

“I can handle anything,” Landis said. “I don't expect sympathy. But my mom's a saint. Please, leave her alone.”

Arlene Landis said her son called her yesterday and told her he did nothing wrong.

Asked if he's ever lied to his mother, Landis said, “I don't think anybody's ever lied to my mom.”

UPDATE 11:50 a.m.: Press conference is on right now.