The Big Chat with Floyd Landis, Part 1: Is There Any Hope for Anti-Doping? Floyd Talks Doping Then, Now and What Can Be Done
December 14, 2018
A few months ago, Bob Bell (brother of Syracuse University track and cross country coach Brien Bell) of Floyd’s of Leadville reached out to us about the possibility of doing some advertising on LetsRun.com. We weren’t familiar with Floyd’s, but quickly learned it’s a company that makes CBD (cannabidiol) recovery/lifestyle products. And more importantly for the LetsRun.com audience, Floyd’s of Leadville was started and run by “disgraced” cyclist Floyd Landis.
Landis is the guy who had one of the greatest one-day rides ever in the sport of cycling to help him come from behind and win the Tour de France in 2006, the year after Lance Armstrong retired. He was then promptly busted for doping four days later and eventually stripped of his Tour title. Floyd maintained his innocence, crowd-funded over half a million dollars for his defense with a “Floyd Fairness Fund” (for which he was later charged with fraud and ordered to pay back $478,000 in restitution), and wrote a book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France, that said he was innocent. The problem for Floyd was that he was totally doping during the Tour. However, to this day, Floyd says he was not taking testosterone during the Tour (and that is the drug he was busted for).
Eventually in 2010, while back riding in the minor leagues of cycling, Floyd totally reversed course, admitted to doping, and said his former US Postal Team — including Armstrong — was doping as well. Floyd then filed a lawsuit against Armstrong under the False Claims Act and began cooperating with anti-doping authorities. The federal government joined Landis’ suit, seeking almost $100 million in damages (after paying $32.3 million to sponsor the US Postal Team from 2000-2004); Landis was eligible to receive a portion of the payout for his role as whistleblower. As a result of the suit and Landis’ confession, others eventually cooperated as well. The fairytale of Lance Armstrong as the clean, cancer-surviving athlete fell apart as he was sanctioned by US Anti-Doping and stripped of his Tour De France titles.
The whistleblower lawsuit was finally settled this year for $5 million, with Landis receiving $1.1 million and an additional $1.65 million to pay his lawyers. Landis told Bicycling.com that $750,000 of the $1.1 million remains after paying fees related to the supporters defrauded in the Floyd Fairness Fund and that $750,000 should cover up to three-quarters of the budget for a new professional Floyd’s of Leadville cycling team he is starting. The rest will be personally funded by Landis.
Along the way, the lies, the deceit, and being away from the top of cycling took its toll on Floyd, and he began drinking too much and developed an opioid addiction. Gradually, he began putting his life back together, starting Floyd’s of Leadville and becoming a father. Now back in the public arena, Landis seems to be in a much better place.
When Bell first reached out, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were going on, and it got us thinking about people being able to present convincing lies and how they live with it (we’re not saying Kavanaugh was lying, but likely either he or Christine Blasey Ford was). We thought it would be fascinating to talk to Floyd. Ten seconds later, Floyd was on the phone for a brief chat, saying he’d love to talk about anything. We figured we could learn a lot from talking to Floyd about anti-doping, life, and redemption, and got the idea for having a big chat on LetsRun.
LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson then met with Floyd before Thanksgiving for nearly two hours. The full audio of their chat is embedded below or available as a podcast in iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. You can read a full transcript of their talk here.
That transcript is 20,000 words long, so for those of you who only want the highlights, we’ve got them for you in two parts. The Part 1 highlights feature Floyd’s comments on the state of anti-doping today, his problems with the system, and how easy he thinks it is to dope. Part 2 will come in the next couple of days and will include Floyd’s comments on adjusting to life after competition, running his own business, CBD products, and what he thinks about doping in running.
Part 1: Floyd Landis On Doping and Anti-Doping
Note: You can click on a timestamp below in blue to hear that part of the audio. The audio will then keep playing from that point. Go back to the player above to pause it or mute your device to stop hearing it.
1. Floyd Landis believes the current anti-doping system is ineffective at catching cheats, not transparent, catches cheats at a rate about equal to the false-positive rate, and features leaders who care more about presenting an image of being effective than anything else
The overall picture that Landis paints of the anti-doping movement is not a positive one. He thinks the anti-doping authorities do a very poor job of stopping doping in sport but try to present the appearance that they are effective at it.
To start to understand Landis’s current position on anti-doping in sport, it’s best to understand where he came from. He believes he cycled in an environment where nearly all of the other top riders and teams were doping and hardly anyone was getting caught, despite global anti-doping authorities saying they were combating the problem.
Floyd wouldn’t say everyone at the top was doping when he rode, but he did say, “I can say for certain that when I was racing, everybody in the peloton and everybody in management, whether they were doping or involved in doping or not, certainly knew the extent of the doping. There is nobody there that didn’t know and therefore was complicit in it, right? No one did anything about it.” [28:17]
The story of Oscar Pereiro, who is now the winner of the 2006 Tour de France after Landis was stripped of his title, illustrates how prevalent doping was in the sport. Landis and Pereiro were battling for the title in 2006 while on different teams, but Landis says they openly discussed doping during the 2006 Tour. They had been on the same team the year before when Floyd said he “helped him do blood doping,” so there was no concern about keeping the doping secret, even from a rival the next year. Yet, somehow, once Landis was stripped of his title, Pereiro was upset at Landis for stealing his glory as Pereiro didn’t get to be feted as the champion on the Champs-Élysées. [59:41]
Perhaps equally important to Floyd’s view of the anti-doping environment is:
1a) Floyd was adamant he did not take testosterone during the 2006 Tour, which is what he was busted for
Floyd operated in a world where he believed all the top riders were doping, yet he said he was busted for a drug he did not take. “No, I was not using testosterone during the Tour. I used a bunch of other things. I used EPO and growth hormone and blood transfusions. So this is why it’s complicated to try to say [there are problems with the system]. [But] look, you should also, okay, fine, take me out [of the discussion]. I’m done. I’ll never race again and my Tour is gone. But you also have a system that simply cannot distinguish between whether someone doped or not. And you’re using that to selectively prosecute people,” he said. [16:35]
1b) Floyd believes the doping tests aren’t as accurate as presented
Floyd argued that the system is not as fair or transparent. He said that his test for testosterone, if carried out at the lab in the United States (instead of France), would not have been a positive test. “But in the United States, in Don Catlin‘s lab, that did not meet the positivity criteria, so it would be called a negative test in the United States. That we know, they admitted to that,” he said. [19:22]
Related to that, he said the science behind the test that busted him isn’t as robust as you might think.
“For anyone out there that has a couple of working brain cells, their entire carbon isotype test was based on one study with 10 people and no control subjects. That’s what their basis for their entire test is, right? There was nothing else, so they’re basically just guessing at what the positivity criteria should be in the first place, but even if you accept the lab document package that I was provided at face value, it still wasn’t a positive test in the United States.
“Part of what inspired me to fight and to think that I could continue racing was, look, these guys got this wrong. And if you’re just gonna charge me with some random thing because you can’t catch people that are on drugs, then that’s not a good system and I’d fight that system out of principle, even though it’s a convoluted principle, right?” [20:56]
1c) As a result, he thinks the system is just catching people randomly
Floyd said the percent of positive tests doesn’t really differ from the false-positive rate you’d expect.
“And then, I guess I would say if you’re gonna try to police it, then set up a system that’s at least fair and gives everybody that’s on drugs the same chance of being caught as, as all the other guys that are on drugs rather than just simply…. If you look at their statistics they have about a little more than a one percent false-positive rate. That’s their expected false-positive rate if you look at their actual statistics and that’s exactly how many people test positive,” he said. [24:35]
On whether he considered the drug testing system to be like roulette, Landis said, “You just get angry and respond irrationally. It’s actually worse than roulette because what it does is if you’re winning a race and all that they’re doing is getting false positives from time to time and you’re tested 10 times more than everyone else [chuckles] then really it’s just a matter of try not to win, just get second. Honestly it looks like in cycling, at this point getting second is probably better anyway [laughs], but then you just get tested less and your odds are better regardless.” [54:35]
2) He thinks it would be very easy to dope today
The Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) that monitors athletes’ blood levels and biomarkers is a relatively new system that is supposed to be effective at indirectly catching dopers. However, Floyd believes it would easy to dope today, even with the ABP.
“You could do EPO right now in (low) enough quantities that you could raise your hematocrit from 44 to 50 in a two-week period and have zero risk,” he said.
“I know that they can be using EPO and I know that they can be using peptides like growth hormone or there’s all these other insulin growth factors or mitochondrial growth factors. There’s peptides, there’s countless ways you can manipulate peptides that are analogs to growth hormone that’ll have specific effects on you and there’s zero chance of getting caught. Even growth hormone, you’d have to be tested within 20 minutes of using it,” he said. [41:08]
3) Floyd said doping authorities covered up tests at the Salt Lake Olympics and do not hold themselves to the same standard they hold athletes to
When Landis talked about anti-doping authorities not being able to determine if someone doped or not, he said not only does he believe the tests are not that accurate, but that doping authorities “selectively prosecute people.” He then threw out the allegation that at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the IOC covered up positive EPO tests.
Landis said, “Now we know that Don Catlin, he’s admitted in the New York Times to covering up positive EPO tests from Salt Lake City. There’s an article where he says, yeah, I called the head of the IOC and we decided it was going to cause too much damage so we just made [the positive tests] go away… And he was never punished. So how can you say that we have this standard that we hold the athletes to where on the other side, they can just do whatever the hell they want?” [16:35]
Landis is correct on there being a 2014 article by Juliet Macur in the NY Times in which Catlin said, in addition to the three positive tests at the 2002 Olympics for darbepoetin, a designer version of EPO, there were two more positive tests that “he and the International Olympic Committee president at the time, Jacques Rogge, had decided against pursuing because ‘it would raise a huge stink around the world.'”
The test for darbepoetin was new and darbepoetin wasn’t on the banned list because it was a new drug. Catlin said Rogge asked him if he could win the three cases and Catlin said, according to the NY Times, “‘Yes, but it will take a lot of work just for these three.’ So we decided to stop there. We couldn’t risk taking on all five. Lose just one of those and your credibility on the issue is shot.”
Landis said he has brought this up with USADA head Travis Tygart, saying he told Tygart “this might be more egregious than the cyclists breaking the rules because what [Catlin] did was undermine the entire validity of the anti-doping agency, and they didn’t do anything to him. They still use him as a[n expert].” Landis said he told Tygart he needed to prosecute Catlin, and Tygart’s response was, “Floyd, I think his mental health isn’t well, and you know we couldn’t find any evidence of that (of two darbepoetin positives not being prosecuted).” [51:17]
Editor’s note: We reached out to Tygart about Landis’ comments and he declined to comment on them.
4) Landis believes the anti-doping system is about protecting the status quo, keeping funding, and busting masters runners instead of effectively combating doping
Floyd thinks the anti-doping authorities present an optimistic picture on combating doping and that they do that because it is in their self-interest. “I wish that the anti-doping agencies would just be honest with how big the problem is. Of course, they don’t want to do that because then they’re gonna lose their funding, right? If they actually admitted that, look, we’re barely doing anything here, then why give them $10 million a year of taxpayer money so USADA can bust a bunch of 55-year-old master racers?” he said. [29:03]
He also has a problem with the anti-doping authorities forcing athletes into arbitration rather than going to court to protest their innocence. He said that when the anti-doping authorities bring a case against an athlete, the evidence is stacked against the athlete. Rather than being a quest for truth, he says little information is shared with athletes on the data behind the doping tests.
Landis said the anti-doping authorities are getting bigger, but not more effective. On WADA, he said, “If you just go look at the funding and where it’s been spent by WADA, it’s doubled every few years since it started and not only has the amount spent on scientific research for testing not increased relatively, it hasn’t increased at all. Only the salaries and travel expenses and fancy get-togethers. They don’t even do more tests.” [52:59] When I said USADA was critical of WADA recently, Landis said, “Of course they are, because it’s in their interests to try to get more power and more money, that’s why [Tygart] is in DC, trying to get more taxpayer money.” [51:10]
(Editor’s note: We looked at the WADA budget for the most recent year, and four and eight years before that. The figures are in the chart below. The amount spent on research grants was nearly $4 million LESS in 2017 than 2009. While there is a line item for “Testing Fees,” WADA does not carry out drug tests itself; it sets the guidelines for the groups doing the testing. However, since 2013 WADA has reported the number of drug tests in its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) and we have those numbers below. All figures in US dollars.)
|Total operating expenses||27,031,185||29,398,023||30,180,649|
|Salaries and personnel costs||7,464,975||10,379,981||12,354,499|
|Samples reported as tested in ADAMS||N/A||293,755||351,180|
(Editor’s note: We also looked up the numbers for USADA and they are below. General and Administrative expenses for USADA have gone up very little over eight years. We believe the USADA budget would not be that different in 2017 vs 2009 except for the addition of taking over UFC’s drug testing in 2015, which increased revenue and expenses. The contribution from the main source of funding — the US government — has been flat. All figures in US dollars.)
|Total operating expenses||14,093,137||14,269,278||20,223,800|
|Science, research and development and drug reference||1,159,151||2,005,927||2,645,213|
|Education and awareness||2,055,340||2,473,032||3,146,069|
|General and administrative||803,276||765,073||928,704|
|Money from USOC||3,825,000||3,606,000||5,142,250|
|Revenue from testing from 3rd parties||1,443,715||1,890,362||6,787,136|
|# of drug tests for Olympic sports||8,580||9,197||9,966|
|# of UFC tests||2,818|
5) Landis said we should not give up, but that we need to start by giving amnesty to current cheats to combat the problem
Although Landis does not think positively of the current anti-doping situation, he doesn’t think it is hopeless. “Look, I’m guilty of saying, a few times, that I think they should just give up on anti-doping. I don’t really think that as a global approach they should just give up. What I think is that they should rethink what they’re doing now and just pause it for a second, because I think it’s doing more harm than good. It certainly isn’t looking like it’s promising for the long-term, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for a solution. I don’t know what the solution is and there’s no harm in trying and brainstorming and having smart people try to figure out a solution,” he said. [81:24]
“If you really want to fix it and you believe it’s a problem then let’s address it in a meaningful way not just sort of haphazard, catch a guy here and catch a guy there, thinking that’s a deterrent because it isn’t. It’s not working… The system doesn’t work. We’re (Landis and Armstrong) not the right messenger but the other problem is, who’s the messenger going to be? No athlete that isn’t currently a target of the anti-doping agency is going to stand up and say, ‘Hey, this is fucked up,’ because then they’re going to become a target,” Landis said. [62:34]
If Landis was put in charge, he said he would try to get dirty athletes to come forward and reform the system before giving the current system more money. “I don’t think anyone in the sport likes that side of it (feeling they have to dope) but it becomes just an arms race within it and they all sort of know each other. You’re in your own little world and nobody really wants to turn on each other. So the only way to actually get the information is to give everybody a free pass from the past. Just ‘okay, we’re starting right now. Just tell us what’s happening and how you do it and what you did and let’s see if we can come up with a solution’ because right now they’re just guessing at what they should even be tested for, or how to look for it,” he said. [41:44]
6) Landis is fine with you calling him whatever you want, but wants people to know he never set out to hurt anyone
Landis made a lot of decisions he’d probably make differently now. “Now with that I know I probably would have just not tried to be a professional bicycle racer in the first place, but I didn’t know until I was there in the middle of it and then the decision was a tough one,” he said. [9:38]
He said he gets tired of people calling him “drug cheat,” but he understands it.
“And people have their opinions about what they would have done and the best I can do is just try to say, ‘Here were the circumstances and here’s why I did it,’ and you don’t have to agree you would have done it. But at least don’t take it too far. It’s not like I’m the devil here. I didn’t set out to do this in the first place. I got caught up in it and yeah, I made bad decisions,” he said.
He wants people to know, “I wasn’t out there to hurt anybody in the first place. That just never was the case.”[5:31]
More Floyd: *Full transcript and audio of chat with LetsRun here