The provisionally disgraced Tour de France winner Floyd Landis flatly denied last night that he had taken testosterone or any other banned substance and vowed to clear his name.
The American said that his high testosterone reading after a gruelling tour stage last week had nothing to do with taking drugs and that he had always had an unusually high level of testosterone in his body.
Landis, 31, appeared in public for the first time since it was announced on Thursday that he had tested positive for an unusually - and illegally - high level of the male hormone following a spectacular victory in the Alpine stage of the 2006 Tour at Morzine last week.
Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, he said: "I would like to make absolutely clear that I am not in any doping process. I ask not to be judged by anyone, much less sentenced by anyone. We will explain to the world why this is not a doping case but a natural occurrence.
"I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling. I was the strongest guy. I deserved to win, and I'm proud of it."
The world of cycling remained stunned yesterday. Although cycling's most spectacular and celebrated event has been dogged by drugs scandals for decades, no Tour winner has ever previously been accused officially of taking a banned substance.
Landis, suspended from his team, will not know his fate until Monday at the earliest. Tests are under way on a second or "B" sample of urine. If that sample confirms the first result, he will be stripped of thetitle and would face suspension from professional cycling for up to two years.
Under World Anti-Doping Agency regulations, a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone greater than 4:1 is considered a positive result. The threshold was recently lowered from 6:1. The "natural" ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in humans is 1:1.
Pat McQuaid, the Irish president of the International Cycling Union, said yesterday that judgement must be suspended until the "B" sample result is known. He said, however, that he was "angry" and "disgusted" that drugs allegations had dominated the 2006 Tour. Two favoured riders were kicked out of the race before it began after their names had been linked to a Spanish criminal investigation into the illegal distribution of performance-boosting drugs. McQuaid said that he would shortly announce a new ICU "crusade against doping".
"Whatever decisions we have to take, we will take to gain the upper ground against these guys," he said.
French newspapers, who had taken Landis to their hearts, turned savagely on him yesterday. A huge front-page headline in the sporting newspaper L'Equipe - one of the main sponsors and organisers of the Tour - read "La faute de Landis", which means "Landis's foul" or "Landis's crime".
However, confusion continues to surround the positive test. As L'Equipe pointed out, testosterone is a slow-acting drug. It is used to build endurance over many weeks. It cannot alone explain the turnaround in the form of the eventual Tour winner, who suffered on the Alpine 16th stage on last Wednesday last week and then rocketed ahead of the peloton on the gruelling climb to Morzine the next day.
Sporting drugs experts pointed out other anomalies. If Landis had taken testosterone to prepare for the Tour, why had it not shown up in urine samples taken before the race and after earlier stages?Reuse content