Cycling: Armstrong accused of doping – but is it a case of bad blood?

Floyd Landis has admitted to years of drug use in an attack on his former team-mate's reputation
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The Independent Online

On one level it was a long-overdue but nonetheless startling confession: Floyd Landis, the disgraced American cyclist who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after failing doping tests, has finally decided to come clean, admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. But that news was dwarfed by the accusations he levelled against his former team-mate Lance Armstrong.

In a series of emails which came to light yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Landis alleges that for Armstrong too doping had become so accepted as to have been the subject of casual conversation between the two during training rides.

Landis went so far as to suggest: "He [Armstrong] and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides, during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test."

Armstrong has been quick to rubbish Landis's claims. Speaking yesterday at the Tour of California alongside his long-term manager, Johan Bruyneel, he cast doubts over his fellow American's credibility. "We have nothing to hide," he said. "With regards to the specific claims, they're not worth getting into it. I'm not going to waste my time or your time. It's our word against his word. I like our word."

Landis's admission of his own drugs use is hardly surprising. Despite mounting a $2m campaign to clear his name against his positive test for artificial testosterone in 2006, he finally lost his appeal and his Tour title as well as becoming destitute.

The sweeping allegations made to the Wall Street Journal concern doping within Armstrong's former team, US Postal, and its supervision by Bruyneel.

Until now, the only confessions of doping within US Postal, such as those made by Frankie Andreu, have appeared as isolated cases where the rider acted on his own initiative – and none of them has involved Armstrong.

Landis's emailed claims, however, allege the opposite – that Armstrong, other team-mates, and the manager were all implicated. The doping was, in other words, anything but furtive.

The response from the cycling establishment has been one of surprise that Landis has taken so long to make these accusations – and that they come after his systematic denial of doping beforehand.

"These are the rantings of a very disturbed man," the president of the International Cycling Union, Pat McQuaid, told The Independent. "For years he denied doing anything, he wrote a book about it, he had his own website [the Floyd Fairness Fund], all claiming he was innocent.

"Now he claims it's the opposite. Where's his credibility? And why does he do this during the Tour of California?"

Possibly the most dramatic allegation is Landis's account of how he had two half-litre units of blood extracted during a three-week interval before the Tour de France in 2003, carried out in Armstrong's apartment.

He also claimed that blood bags belonging to himself and Armstrong were kept in the Texan's fridge, and that once, when he was away, Armstrong asked him to ensure the power stayed on.

In yet further allegations made to in a phone interview, Landis claimed he had personally used a whole arsenal of substances: apart from cycling's drug of choice, the blood booster EPO, he took testosterone, HGH, female hormones and even had a one-off experiment with insulin.

The 34-year-old said he had taken the substances while racing with US Postal, his first top-flight team, then with a Swiss squad, Phonak – with whom he "won" the Tour. His total yearly doping bill, including working with consultants on training techniques and recorded in notebooks Landis has passed on to the authorities, was anything up to $90,000.

Landis is also reported in the Wall Street Journal as saying he used increasingly sophisticated doping methods as time went on, starting off with testosterone patches, then moving on to transfusions and EPO, and that Bruyneel was responsible for giving him guidance on their use.

Phonak's former boss, Andy Rihs, was quick to rubbish Landis's claims. Armstrong has consistently and categorically denied ever doping during his career.

Suspicion has swirled around the American for years, though. In 1999, after his first Tour de France win, he was accused of using one substance, but he had a doctor's certificate that fully justified its use.

In 2005, just days after Armstrong won his seventh Tour, the French sports daily L'Equipe published allegations that EPO had been found in his urine samples taken in 1999.

Armstrong denied the accusations, repeatedly pointing out that he had never tested positive. When he made his comeback in 2009, he would regularly Twitter the arrival of officials at his home to carry out random anti-doping tests. By the end of the year, he had had numerous such visits.

Landis has never been afraid of doing things his own way. Born into a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania and banned from bike riding, he starting breaking away from the religion's tough norms when he trained in secret for hours in the dark with a flashlight Sellotaped to his bike.

Landis then abandoned the Mennonites and went to live in California, training as an MTB bike rider before settling on road-racing, at which his talents quickly became obvious. In 2002, he signed for US Postal as one of America's most gifted all-rounders.

Landis and Armstrong were thought to be close at this stage: the Texan even tried to gift Landis a Tour stage win in the Alps. After the two team-mates moved ahead in a small group of riders, Armstrong told Landis he should attack with the words, "ride like you stole something."

However, after Landis left US Postal in 2005, a departure regarded in some quarters as a betrayal of Armstrong, the relationship between the two quickly cooled. Landis later heavily insinuated that Armstrong's squad, by then sponsored by Discovery Channel, had for unspecified reasons tried to ensure he did not win races – even if Discovery had no chance of winning themselves.

Landis's rapid rise to power may not have pleased Armstrong either. The former MTBer seemed destined to continue the tradition of American Tour winners after Armstrong, taking the race the following year with a spectacular lone charge through the Alps – all this despite being in dire need of an artificial hip operation because of osteonecrosis, a wasting disease. Just a few days after the Tour ended, though, Landis found himself in trouble of another kind, with a positive test for artificial testosterone.

Suspended following a two-year legal battle, during which he claimed variously that his failed test came from drinking too much Jack Daniels whiskey and that the test results had been misread, he has since returned to racing with two minor American squads. Landis still maintains, though, that he did not take testosterone during that year's Tour – although French courts have recently opened a case to investigate whether Landis's associates hacked into the anti-doping lab's computer systems to manipulate the results themselves.

Landis says he has no physical evidence to substantiate his claims, but he has sent the emails to top cycling officials because he wanted the offences to fall within the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA]'s eight-year limitation on doping offences, and he started doping in June 2002.

"If I don't say something now, then it's going to be pointless to ever say it," Landis claimed to "I want to clear my conscience and I don't want to be part of the problem any more. But I don't feel guilty at all about having doping. I did what I did because that's what [we] cyclists did."