Tour de France: The shaming of a cycling superhero

Test results mean Floyd Landis will be first Tour de France winner stripped of his title

The American cyclist Floyd Landis is to be stripped of his Tour de France title after a test yesterday confirmed he had excess levels of the hormone testosterone in his body when he won the race.

The 30-year-old cyclist won last month with a heroic performance in the last and most gruelling mountain stage of the race, but now faces the humiliation of being banned from the sport for two years.

Landis, who has protested his innocence ever since the first doping test found excessive levels of testosterone, was summarily sacked by his Swiss racing team, Phonak, yesterday after the "B" sample also proved positive.

He will be the first winner of the Tour de France to be stripped of the title.

The decision to strip him of the famous "yellow jersey" worn by champions will be made officially by the International Cycling Union, but yesterday the director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, said: "It goes without saying that, for us, Floyd Landis is no longer the winner of the 2006 Tour de France."

It is now expected that the Spaniard who was Landis's runner-up, Oscar Pereiro, will be declared the winner. The ruling will prove to be immensely embarrassing to the sport, which has been hit recently by a series of doping scandals involving some of the best-known teams.

Landis has insisted that the high hormone levels were "a natural occurrence", and he continued to protest his innocence. "I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone. 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."

His lawyer, Howard Jacobs, added: "In consultation with some of the leading medical and scientific experts, we will prove that Floyd Landis's victory in the 2006 Tour de France was not aided in any respect by the use of any banned substances."

The American, who returned to cycling after recovering from a broken hip in a crash three years ago, will be now referred to the United States Cycling Federation for a formal investigation for doping. That inquiry will allow Landis and his lawyers to challenge the assumption that the abnormal levels of testosterone were artificial rather than, as he insists, produced naturally by his body.

Speaking in Madrid last week, he said the testosterone was "absolutely natural and produced by my own organism".

Landis's victory - described by some as "awesome" - came after he had all but lost his leading position, effectively collapsing on day 16 of the race during a gruelling mountain stage where he was left unsupported by his team-mates. But the next day, he produced an extraordinary solo performance, outstripping the nearest rider to win the final day of the mountain stage by a remarkable six minutes.

He went on to join the small pantheon of American winners of the Tour after three-times winner Greg LeMond and seven-times champion Lance Armstrong. His 57-second winning margin in this year's tour was the sixth narrowest in Tour history.

Disgraced: Ruined by the hunger to win at all costs

JUNE 2006 One-time Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla dropped by T-Mobile, for links to a major blood doping inquiry which included 13 riders.

JUNE 2006 British sprinter Dwain Chambers loses his European gold medal, and has all his races since 2001 annulled, after admitting to using a performance drug.

JULY 2006 Justin Gatlin, US World and Olympic 100m sprinter, faces lifetime ban after tests showed high levels of testosterone.

JULY 2006 West Ham defender Shaun Newton was suspended for seven months after testing positive for cocaine.

AUGUST 2006 Gabor Dobos, Hungary's top sprinter, tests positive for high testosterone. Banned for life.

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