Bob Ford | Landis facing a stacked deck at doping hearing

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Floyd Landis, the Tour de France champion, is cross-examined at his arbitration hearing in Malibu, Calif.The swing voter on the three-man panel has almost always ruled against athletes.

Out in California this week, Barry Bonds continues his relentless stalking of Henry Aaron's career home-run record, and Lancaster County cyclist Floyd Landis continues his attempt merely to salvage his career.

The fates of the two men are unrelated aside from their current proximity, but their stories are intertwined because both have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs to cheat at their chosen professions.

Bonds has been found largely guilty in the nonbinding court of public opinion but has so far been able to lean away from anything more substantial, as if the mass of circumstantial evidence were just one more chin-high fastball to avoid deftly.

Landis, the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, tested positive for high testosterone levels after a remarkable Stage 17 comeback in that race, and other samples were later found to contain synthetic testosterone.

Bonds and Landis operate in very different worlds. Baseball's drug-testing strictures were impossibly lax when inflated sluggers shredded the game's most hallowed records. The testing for international sports is much more stringent, but takes place in an environment in which the hunt for witches encourages the testers to cut a few corners.

It is the difference between innocent-until-proven-guilty and the exact opposite.

The bottom line is that, from the standpoint of reasonable doubt, neither Bonds nor Landis can be declared guilty. That is a uniquely American standard, one that we would all want applied to ourselves in a similar situation. You've got to catch the guy, and you've got to catch him cold.

Landis was caught by the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage in Châtenay-Malabry, a facility in a suburb just southwest of Paris. The methods and procedures at the lab are sloppy, and the results it issues are increasingly suspect. Recently, the International Tennis Federation announced that drug tests from the French Open - held in Paris, by the way - would be shipped to a lab in Montreal rather than shuttled to Châtenay-Malabry. The ITF said it was an economic decision, but what was it going to say?

The French lab has spit out approximately three times as many positive results as other labs sanctioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Those results, particularly the ones involving notable American cyclists, are also quickly leaked to L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, which happens to be owned by the company that owns the Tour de France. So it's quite a racket.

Does any of this mean Floyd Landis is innocent, set up by nefarious Frenchmen who twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight? No, it does not. He may well be guilty. It means only that you can't trust the evidence.

This would be fine for Landis if his case was being heard in a court of law that adhered to innocent-until and the overriding escape hatch of reasonable doubt. Instead, his arbitration, which is being prosecuted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, will be judged by a three-man panel, and was probably decided before it began.

Each side in the case picks one arbitrator, and the third is supposed to be mutually agreed upon. That didn't happen, and the compromise member of the panel is someone who almost always rules against athletes. The decision is cooked, in other words, and Landis is done.

During the hearing at the Pepperdine University School of Law, where closing arguments are scheduled for today, the Landis team laid out a long menu of improprieties at Châtenay-Malabry: mislabeled and misnumbered specimens, gaps and erasures in the recording of results, lab technicians who knew whose samples were being tested - just a seemingly endless laundry list of goofs, either intentional or otherwise.

The prosecution countered with arguments that boiled down to: Yeah, but what about all this testosterone?

When Landis took the stand, he could offer little more than a plea to believe him because he wouldn't cheat. It was touching and heartfelt but carried very little weight.

There was a strange sidelight to the case when former Tour champion Greg LeMond testified that Landis' business manager had left a phone message threatening to reveal that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child if he testified against Landis. This quickly led to the business manager's becoming the ex-business manager - and entering rehab the next day - but aside from being a momentary distraction from all the talk of carbon-isotope tests and testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratios, it also had no real bearing on the hearing.

Nothing does. The arbitration panel will uphold the results from Châtenay-Malabry by a vote of 2-1, Landis will be stripped of his Tour title, and he will begin a mandatory two-year suspension that could end his career.

Does he deserve it? Maybe, but it is impossible to say for sure.

"Even cheaters deserve a fair hearing," one witness told the arbitrators.

Floyd Landis isn't getting one, though. He has been caught in the zealous hunt for witches, and in international sports, unlike in major-league baseball, that requires only a pointy hat and some bad luck.


Bob Ford |

Floyd Landis' cross-examination gets ugly. D2.
Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.