The most unwelcome guest in the five-year history of the Amgen Tour of California sat in a hospitality tent near the finish line last Saturday, his back to the bike race. As he shook hands and made small talk with fellow VIPs, Floyd Landis was asked if he felt liberated by his recent confession. "I do," he said. "I mean, I'm getting beat up pretty bad right now, but in the long run this will be a good thing."
The winner of the 2006 Tour of California showed zero interest in stage 7 of the 2010 edition, a 21-mile time trial through downtown Los Angeles. As skin-suited, aero-helmeted riders went speeding past, Landis seldom bestirred himself to take a look, ignoring the comings and goings of his former U.S. Postal Service teammates George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie, all of whom Landis had recently exposed or defamed, depending on whom you believe.
In a series of e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors, Landis accused those three and 14 others—most notably seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong—of doping or complicity in doping. Landis offered no documentation, though he says he kept journals that back up his claims. All of the accused parties either declined to address or denied outright Landis's allegations, which are sensational. A brief sampler:
• In an April 30 e-mail to USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson, Landis claimed that in early 2003 he was assigned by Armstrong to babysit bags of blood from Armstrong, Landis and Hincapie for future transfusion. According to the e-mail, while Armstrong was away at a training camp, Landis moved into the Texan's apartment in Girona, Spain. "I was asked to ... check the blood temperature every day," Landis wrote, "to stay in his place and make sure the electricity didn't turn off or something go wrong with the referigerator [sic]."
• That same year, Landis wrote, he "personally witnessed" Armstrong, Hincapie and another U.S. Postal team rider, José Luis (Chechu) Rubiera, receiving performance-boosting blood transfusions during the Tour de France.
• Landis also described an afternoon in 2004 when the USPS team bus "stopped on a remote mountain road for an hour or so," ostensibly with engine trouble, "so the entire team could have half a liter of blood added."
Armstrong and his camp hit back swiftly, forcefully and with a smooth coordination that comes from years of practice. Landis, they said, has a credibility deficit. Stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone, he had lied for years about his own use of performance-enhancing drugs. For most of his career Armstrong has had to fend off allegations that he was not a clean champion. Nothing really stuck. This time could be different. The Texan's latest counterattack took place amid reports that Landis is cooperating with a federal probe led by Jeff Novitzky, the chief investigator in the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) case and now a special agent for the criminal division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Two independent sources close to the investigation told SI that Armstrong is part of the focus of Novitzky's probe. The sources say the investigator is particularly interested in whether Armstrong and some of his teammates were involved in illicit drug activity while they were sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, which helped fund the team from 1996 (Armstrong joined in '98) through June 2004.
Landis said he is admitting his own drug use and implicating other cyclists to "clear my conscience." If his allegations are true, they are some of the most damning in the history of cycling. And the information contained in various e-mails of Landis's that have surfaced may not be all that he has told Novitzky. Recently Landis sent a text message to a friend with this prediction about Armstrong: "Big Tex is going to jail."
Who you gonna believe? That was Armstrong's figurative question to the reporters who scrummed around the RadioShack team bus on the morning of May 20, a few hours after Landis's bombshell had landed on the website of The Wall Street Journal. "We have nothing to hide," declared Armstrong. "We have nothing to run from. It's our word against his word. I like our word. We like our credibility."
Armstrong has rebuffed drug allegations for years without losing his stature as a sports icon and a crusader against cancer. He has always insisted that he has ridden clean, even as two books accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs; at least five of his former teammates confessed to using or have tested positive for PEDs; and the sport he has owned for nearly a decade was exposed as rife with doping.